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Report finds data centres are not green

Published: 17 December 2019 - Carly Wills

Super Micro Computer, Inc. (SMCI)has released its second annual Data Centres and the Environment report based on an industry survey of over 5,000 IT professionals. Results demonstrated again this year that the majority of data centre leaders do not fully consider green initiatives for the growing build-out of data centre infrastructures, increasing data centre costs, and impacting the environment.  

Key findings

Across the board, responses from IT experts from SMBs, large enterprises, and recognised companies showed thatmost businesses (86 per cent) don’t consider the environmental impact of their facilities as an important factorfor their data centres: 

·     Data centre leaders primarily noted total cost of ownership and return on investment as their primary measures of success, with less than 15 per cent responding that energy efficiency, corporate social responsibility, or environmental impactwere key considerations for their facilities.

·      22 per cent of respondents noted ‘environmental considerations’ were too expensive for them to be considered a priority for their company – indicating a significant lack of understanding of the ROI of green computing solutions.

Almost nine out of ten data centres are not designed for optimal power effectiveness, potentially costing each data centremore than $1.4m annually based on national averages:

·      Even with the advent of novel cooling techniques and new hardware that can handle higher operating temperatures, companies are still moving towards colder ambient temperatures for their data centres – compared to 2018, the number of businesses this year focused on keeping their facilities and servers below 24oC increased by 13 per cent, now consisting of over two thirds of respondents. 

·      This is especially wasteful, since leveraging free air-cooling equipment designs running at higher than 26.5oC enables data centres to decrease operating costs.

·      Many companies are also operating their data centres at lower densities than necessary – with 71 per cent of respondents noted their data centres run at power densities less than 19kW per rack.

·      Utilising multinode servers and operating at higher power densities would drastically improve energy requirements and decrease costs as well. 

The primary means of handling outdated server hardware from data centres has worryingly changed since 2018. In 2019, companies recycling their decommissioned hardware has dropped across the board: 

·      The number of businesses partnering with a certified recycling company dropped by 14 per cent from 2018 to 2019, and the number of companies reporting recycling the hardware themselves dropped by five per cent.

·      With e-waste already contributing to two per cent of trash and 70 per cent of overall toxic waste in the US, a decrease in proper recycling for such large amounts of hardware indicates a concerning impact on the environment.

·      Even worse, about one in ten of the largest enterprises with the most data centre hardware are still essentially throwing away decommissioned equipment.

·      Nine per cent of these largest enterprises reported disposing of the hardware without relying on any kind of recycling.

Optimised hardware refresh cycles would reduce e-waste by over 80 per cent and achieve 15 per cent better performance while lowering acquisition costs by 44 per cent – potentially reducing annual capital savings by $900k and resulting e-waste by 12 tons.  

·      The majority, 35 per cent of businesses, planned to refresh server hardware every two to three years in 2018, while the majority in 2019 shifted to 40 per cent planning to refresh server hardware every four to five years instead. 

“The 2019 survey findings establish again that consideration of the environmental impact for data centre equipment selection continues to be an IT industry challenge,” said Charles Liang, president and CEO of Supermicro. “We are continuing our focus on resource-saving architecture to help end-customers save both energy and hardware acquisition costs while reducing the environmental impact.”

Supermicro’s resource-saving architecture disaggregates the CPU and memory as well as other subsystems, so each resource can be refreshed independently, allowing data centres to reduce refresh cycle costs and their impact on the environment. When viewed over a two to four-year refresh cycle, Supermicro resource-saving servers deliver, on average, higher performing, and more efficient servers at lower costs than traditional rip-and-replace models by allowing data centres to independently optimise adoption of new and improved technologies.

The second annual Supermicro Data Centres & the Environment report provides an overview of the major trends shaping IT infrastructure delivery and strategy. This year, the survey was conducted via email in October 2019. It includes responses from 1,362 data centre operators and IT practitioners globally from enterprises, service providers, and SMBs and represents a comprehensive cross section of key demographics including job function, data centre geography, industry vertical, and size.

“San Jose-based Supermicro’s global survey on green data centres reveals that most companies don’t thoroughly consider power consumption and minimising e-waste when choosing data centre equipment,” said Sam Liccardo, mayor of the City of San Jose. “As a leading Silicon Valley company in innovation and sustainability, Supermicro has long championed green computing, and I invite the industry to learn more about its impacts and opportunities.”

The data centre industry has to make many improvements to be considered green. Choosing innovative data centre equipment leveraging technology advancements can significantly impact the environment.  For example, disaggregated server configurations can lead to significant refresh savings and the opportunity to rapidly take advantage of the latest server technologies to reduce refresh cycles. 

Another consideration is the power effectiveness of data centres. High efficiency, high density servers can reduce the amount of power required and the physical space needed. In addition, systems designed to support free-air cooling, which doesn’t require computer room air conditioner (CRAC) equipment for cooling, can also reduce data centre energy requirements. 

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