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ENVIRONMENTAL RISKS OF DATA CENTERS: TICKING TIME BOMB


"Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth… these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security, and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all" – Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General


The city-state of Singapore is one of the world’s most desirable locations for a data center. Out of Southeast Asia’s entire data capacity, Singapore accounts for 60 percent which is a remarkable statistic for a small country. However, concerns have been raised that Singapore might lose out to other regional players in the context of being a data center hub owing to strict environmental regulations.


There was a moratorium on new data centers issued in 2019 due to the environmental impact of operating them. The moratorium was removed in 2022. However, for new data centers to be constructed, higher environmental standards were required. Read about the news here. Data centers are crucial for today’s tech world, however their negative impact on the environment is a cause for real concern.


In this blog, we would first understand what a data center is, its uses along with their environmental impact, and what can be done to resolve this situation.


DATA CENTER

“The ability to take data – to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it – is going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades.”- Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google


Data Center can be best defined as a facility storing an organization’s critical applications and data. The key components of a data center are routers, switches, firewalls, storage systems, servers, and application delivery controllers. Read more here.


Data center functions are:

  • Data storage, management, backup, and recovery

  • Productivity applications, such as email

  • High-volume e-commerce transactions

  • Powering online gaming communities

  • Big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence

However, Data Centers need a lot of investment in infrastructure to enable their operation like uninterruptible power systems (UPS), power subsystems, ventilation, cooling systems, fire suppression, backup generators, and connection to external networks. Cisco As data centers need a lot of investment and resources are they environmentally sustainable?

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF DATA CENTERS

"Environment is no one’s property to destroy; it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect." – Mohith Agadi, Author

  1. High Energy Consumption: A Datacenter consumes a huge amount of electricity as per some studies they consume more than nation-states. A normal data center will consume nearly 1% of global electricity demand and effectively contribute to 0.3% of all global CO2 emissions as per the International Energy Agency.

  2. High Water Consumption: A large amount of water is required for the cooling system of a data center. Cooling systems consist of computer room air conditioners, heat exchangers/condensers, pumps, piping, chillers, and finally cooling towers. For their humidification systems centers and facility maintenance, also data centers need large amounts of water. As we can see Data centers, have a major impact on the environment prompting calls for mitigating measures.

RESPONSIBILITIES OF A BUSINESS

"Business has a responsibility beyond its basic responsibility to its shareholders; a responsibility to a broader constituency that includes its key stakeholders: customers, employee, NGOs, government - the people of the communities in which it operates."- Courtney Pratt, Former CEO Toronto Hydro.


As we know Data centers are critical for business operations and for ensuring business continuity. For any Business Continuity Plan, the presence of an alternate data center is a huge risk-reducing factor. However, Data centers run a risk of being shut down for causing harm to the environment. If across the world, countries start enforcing strict environmental regulations on data centers, the operation of data centers will be difficult.


Any disruption in data center operations will create a huge discontinuity in business operations and unless environmental laws are complied with, restarting operations seems difficult. An alternate location for the data center is not a viable option as environmental regulations may become stringent in the other country/ location too. Without an operational data center and its alternate one it will be difficult to ensure Business Continuity.


However, responsible businesses cannot operate in a vacuum by ignoring concerns like the environment. So, can a data center and green environment co-exist together?


ENVIRONMENT-FRIENDLY DATA CENTERS

“What makes me most hopeful [about achieving a 1.5° pathway] is the private sector. We have more than 3,000 corporates globally that have science-based decarbonization targets and plans, and we have a huge volume of financing that is seeking some form of ESG or sustainability investment focus. Society is also becoming more aware.”- Helge Muenkel, chief sustainability officer of DBS Bank

Green Data centers are basically data centers but those that work with efficient energy consumption and minimize environmental impact. Green data centers are the way forward to achieving sustainable environmental goals. There is no way forward for non-environmentally friendly data centers considering the global calls for action on climate change across the world. How to work on this

  1. It is important to use renewable energy for data centers so that there is a reduction in carbon emissions. The electricity used for powering the data center must be acquired from renewable sources and not by burning fossil fuels. This will help greatly reduce carbon emissions.

  2. Data centers require huge amounts of water for cooling, however, we can consider alternate locations with cooler temperatures to reduce water usage.

The above steps are not exhaustive, there are many more options that can be used to build green data centers.

Examples of green data centers across the World

  1. Verne Global (Keflavik, Iceland)

  2. Facebook (Lulea, Sweden)

  3. Google (Hamina, Finland)

  4. Apple (Maiden, North Carolina)

  5. Citi (Frankfurt, Germany

CONCLUSION Data centers are driving the world through their amazing and efficient operations. However, their environmental impact is not sustainable as seen with Singapore who wanted higher green standards for Data centers considering the impact the previously installed data center had on the environment. In order to prevent any disruption of data center operations due to its impact on nature, it is critical that organizations invest in Green Data centers so as to ensure compliance with environmental norms.


We expect environmental laws to tighten as we work towards reducing global warming. Data centers could be under increasing scrutiny in the coming years by governments, so it is imperative we start working on making Data centers environmentally friendly.


Gorisco has a wide range of experts who are experienced in defining and designing various solutions to help organizations mitigate their risks and resolve their problems.


At Gorisco, our motto is 'Embedding Resilience' and we are committed to making the organizations and their workforce resilient. Reach out to us if you have any queries, clarifications, or need any support on your initiatives.

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