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Supermicro 2021 Predictions: Climate Change Will Further Impact Data Centers in 2021

vmblog 2021 prediction series 

Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2021.  Read them in this 13th annual series exclusive.

Climate Change Will Further Impact Data Centers in 2021

By Chris Demers, Sustainability Manager at Supermicro

With increased awareness of climate change and harmful waste, data center operators are attending to the environmental impact of their data centers. This leads to more efficient hardware, cooling techniques, design approaches that drive down energy usage and e-waste, and greater sourcing of clean power. These trends will only accelerate in 2021, as data center operators use climate change mitigation as a means to attract customers.

Below I'll explore the questions enterprises are starting to ask themselves in efforts to make their data centers greener.

1)      How can my data center use clean energy?

Almost universally, data centers can use clean, renewable energy while reducing costs. A data center's energy source has more impact on the carbon footprint of the data center operator, the service provider using the data center, and manufacturers installing servers at the data center than any other choice the operator can make. Typically, a data center operator decides the energy source for all users of a facility.

Grid parity has been achieved, where clean, renewable sources such as wind and solar are as cheap to install or source from as non-renewable sources. Most utilities in OECD countries allow commercial customers to offer clean energy as a replacement for fossil fuel burning sources. These programs may include renewable energy through the utility itself, or through third-party power purchase agreements (PPA), or through renewable energy credits (REC).

Distributed generation renewable energy production that is owned or controlled by data centers is often viewed as optimal, but on-site renewable energy sources do not always satisfy data center energy demands. Fortunately, clean grid energy can augment this. There are also increasingly effective energy storage solutions for deployment on-site, which are coming down in cost as battery technology improves and scales.

All data center operators can make clean energy sourcing a fundamental consideration to reduce their carbon footprint and cost reduction.

2)      How do I reduce the power usage of my data center?

The most effective way to reduce a data center's power consumption is to reduce the servers' cooling demands. Computer servers produce a great deal of heat, and those servers will drop in performance - or malfunction - if they start to overheat. To ensure that servers continue to perform as designed, server racks and data centers must be designed to remove that heat from the servers effectively.

Adjusting the physical design and placement of server racks can have a tremendous effect on each server's ventilation and cooling. Placing the racks side-by-side and separating the physical space into "cold" aisles and "hot" aisles allow cooling systems to work more efficiently. Enclosing each aisle provides the heat removal and cold air insertion to be directed to where it is needed most. Optimizing related HVAC and airflow drives down energy costs required in keeping the data center cool. Additionally, prioritized operation allows enterprises to operate servers closer to the maximum ranges of their operating temperatures - reducing cooling needs and costs even further.

Other approaches to reduce energy costs on cooling involve using larger fans that are shared between separate servers. Mechanical fans are typically placed at the rear of the servers, drawing air over the electronics. However, most rackmount servers contain their own single or dual fans for this purpose. This redundancy can mean unnecessary power used. We are now seeing aggregation of server components to service more than one machine, increasing the efficiencies of support hardware like fans.

3)      How do I maintain increased SLAs without increasing my data center energy needs?

The worldwide pandemic is forcing businesses to embrace digital transformation to operate. Modern enterprises and IT organizations are enhancing employees' access to new software services and data platforms to maintain daily workflows. This increased use of computing power is putting more demand on data centers to support digital workforce infrastructure.

This demand drives more Service Level Agreements (SLAs) between data center operators and providers and their customers and pushes infrastructure capacity. As enterprises need more and more compute power, data centers need to install more and better servers to provide the necessary level of computation. More powerful servers increase energy consumption for data centers. Thus careful planning for upgrading components and technology is absolutely critical.

4)      How can I address refresh cycles and E-waste production?

Cost-saving and environmental concerns over e-waste production are driving increased interest in disaggregated server architecture. Disaggregated servers are designed so that any individual component of a server - the CPU, GPU, Memory, I/O device, power supply, networking equipment, or storage - can be easily separated and replaced without impacting the other components.

This allows data center operators and providers to easily replace specific parts of their server rack equipment that is underperforming without needing to replace the servers or the entire rack. Faster and more energy-efficient components can be easily exchanged. Altering the refresh cycles in this way reduces costs and e-waste produced from hardware disposal. We expect to see servers become more disaggregated to increase productivity while lessening the impact on the environment.


About the Author

Chris Demers 

Chris Demers is the Sustainability Manager at Supermicro Computer, advancing the company's environmental and social practices. Previously, he was Senior Manager of Sustainability at SunPower Corporation. In federal service, Chris advanced aid effectiveness reforms within foreign assistance. A system's thinker, he believes winning companies will rapidly embrace the circular economy.

Published Wednesday, January 20, 2021 7:38 AM by David Marshall
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