Creating data centres of the future

By Yee May Leong

Equinix shares how innovative design can reduce a data centre’s impact on the environment.

Using a front-loading washing machine can save the equivalent of 50 bathtubs of water, compared to a top-loaded machine. Clothes pass through water at the bottom of the drum, making it water efficient, explained The New York Times. Simple changes in a product’s design can make big differences to their environmental impact.

This same concept could drastically reduce the environmental impact of data centres. Singapore put a pause on the building of new data centres in 2019, as they were deemed not sustainable enough, reported CNA.

Here are four key ways that data centres can be redesigned to become more green, while still meeting the demands of a digitally advanced nation:

1. Using green power

The first way to make data centres more sustainable is to power them through sustainable sources of energy. Fuel cells are 20 to 40 per cent more environmentally friendly compared to gas-powered energy generators, as they produce less emissions.

These fuel cells can also be set up near to the data centres. This means that the generated electricity has less distance to travel, reducing energy lost in the transmission process.

Equinix’s fuel cells are taking on some of the demand on traditional energy sources. By reducing the demands and reliance on fossil fuel power, they are one way that data centres can become more sustainable.

2. Recycling waste heat and water

Every computer system generates heat when in use. It is wasteful to not take advantage of the massive amounts of heat produced by large data centres.

Recycling this waste heat can help the local community too. Equinix’s data center in Helsinki sends its waste heat to a community of 12,000 nearby residents as a form of low-carbon energy. Centers housed in Amsterdam warm the office building, along with nearby buildings of the University of Amsterdam.

Equinix makes sure to apply circular economy principles to minimise waste and reuse waste products. The data center in Helsinki recycles rainwater and greywater to cool its facilities, while the ones in Amsterdam make full use of the cold air and groundwater, rather than using mechanical cooling. This method uses 75 per cent less water than traditional ways.

3. Managing airflow

Data centres need to be kept cool in order to remain functional. This can be an energy guzzler, especially in tropical climates. Separating the flow of hot and cold air maximises energy efficiency.

Hot air is created by the computer and must leave the centre as quickly as possible. Cold air is introduced to cool the machines. Innovative designs separate these airflows, meaning the cold air can cool the machines efficiently.

Separating cold from hot air reduces a data centre’s energy consumption overall. Equinix’s data centers, including those in Singapore, have adopted this feature.

4. Using a hub of energy efficiency

One way that organisations can make their data centres more sustainable is to set up a dedicated team to look at continuous innovations for sustainability. At Equinix we run a dedicated Energy Efficiency Center of Excellence (EE CoE), which specialises in managing and encouraging energy efficiency across our technology.

This centre channels investment into energy efficiency programmes. It also provides information to staff and users about how to build sustainability into technology.

The EE CoE also encourages users to update their systems with green tech during routine maintenance periods. We expect this centre to host the testing of new green data centre technology in the future.

Our energy efficiency initiatives have reduced energy demand, saving the equivalent of 640,000 metric tons in carbon emission since 2011. This is the same amount of carbon that 138,000 cars would produce after driving 1.5 billion miles in a year, our reports found.

Changes to the design of data centres can have a significant impact on how much energy they consume. Ensuring that this energy is created sustainably and used efficiently will go a long way in improving data centres’ impact on the environment.

Yee May Leong is Managing Director, South Asia at Equinix.