According to Ovum data, it is estimated that data centers globally account for approximately 1% of the total electricity consumed, and over 70% of data centers are classed as hyperscale cloud providers or service provider co-location facilities. The impact of climate change has seen hyperscale cloud providers begin reporting on sustainability, renewable energy use, and energy efficiency as part of the value proposition of their services. In our Ovum Decision Matrix: Selecting a Cloud Services Provider, 2019–20, the service offering section gathered data on the environmental questions such as partial power usage efficiency (pPUE), renewable energy usage, and what ecological and environmental services the hyperscale cloud providers are committed to. It was clear from the responses that all the leading cloud providers have a strategy to become carbon neutral. Google has been carbon neutral since 2007, and currently uses 100% renewable energy sources. But not all the hyperscalers were willing to share details on the PUE of their estate, which signifies that these cloud providers are not as advanced as those that are transparent about efficiency. The other observation was that nearly all cloud providers are actively working on topics such as solar farms, carbon credits, wind farms, hybrid cooling, hydro, and solar energy.
However, making electricity more efficient requires many different actions to ensure climate targets can be achieved. For example, one of the unreported and unintended consequences of greater use of electricity as an energy source, even if it is renewable, is the gas used in the switch gear to suppress the effect of medium voltage arcing. Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), it turns out, is harmful to the ozone layer and as such damages the environmental credentials of electricity as a sustainable energy source that will help prevent an increase in global temperature. Ovum expects many of the switch gear manufacturers to announce a new range that is air protected and does not use any gas, SF6 or otherwise. Ovum considers this to be an important, if to the general public somewhat dull, announcement as resolving the unintended consequences of using a renewable energy source is key to greater and wider adoption.
While eliminating SF6 is an important element, the ability to make any facility operationally efficient is a more tangible demonstration of reducing the impact on climate change. The use of AI and the ability to mine the vast amount of data that exists on how the data center is operating will be key to improving data center efficiency. Ovum considers this holistic ability to look at where workloads are executing, what the resource usage associated with these workloads is, how these assets are performing, and then optimize the environment accordingly will be a big contributor to increasing the efficiency of energy usage. Ovum expects this capability to be offered as a cloud-based service that uses data gathered from all of a provider's customers, anonymized, so that customers can benchmark themselves against an industry/region. This ability to show that improvements can be made, and more importantly the business value of delivering these improvements, is a critical component of ensuring greater buy-in from organizations to becoming more environmentally sustainable.
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