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Data centres: a contributor to global warming

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The AIMS Group warned that data centres will consume three times more energy over the next decade, adding that this is a worrying trend for the local data centre industry as a whole.

It cited Britain’s data centre expert, Ian Bitterlin, as saying in 2015 alone, worldwide data centres consumes over 416 terawatt hours of electricity, which is significantly higher than the entire power electricity consumption of the UK which was 300 terawatt hours.

Despite advancements in server storage capacity and data centre cooling technologies, the data centres’ energy consumption accounted for about 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions; or roughly the same carbon footprint as the airline industry.

According to AIMS Group chief operating officer, Mohammad Azman Abdul Rahman, many users are still unaware that power-hungry applications are the main culprit behind the data centres’ enormous power consumption.

According to Statista, there were 2.2 million apps in the Google Play Store and Apple’s Appstore was a close second with 2 million applications as of June 2016. Apple also said 130 billion applications were downloaded globally between July 2008 and June 2016.

“More data means more business for data centres. In fact, the hugely successful app industry is the top driver for data centre businesses. Every Facebook ‘Like’, Instagram post, or Pokemon Go played – or any Internet activity, for that matter – actually requires a huge amount of data to be stored somewhere.

“However, the massive explosion of applications is also one of the driving contributors to the energy consumption of data centres and personal devices. With the Internet of Things set to bring even more Internet-driven applications and innovations, energy consumption will increase exponentially in the very near future,” Azman said.

“Application developers are constantly looking to develop apps that are fast and interactive. But what we don’t see is an emphasis on developing applications that consume less power. Application developers need to prioritise creating apps that are not power guzzlers.

“As much as 50% of a data centre’s operating costs go to power consumption to support both the IT and cooling power requirements. Over the last three years, AIMS saw over 20% increase in power consumption at its data centres alone.

“This is a serious point to note if the industry wants to continue enjoying the advancement of technology and internet innovations in the future without further damaging the sustainability of the environment,” says Azman.

Azman said the local data centre industry is in a conundrum to solve the power consumption high-cost crisis as well as cope with outdated and inefficient power infrastructure.

While the Malaysian data centre industry has been urging Tenaga Nasional Bhd (‘TNB’) to re-tariff the electricity classification for data centres, Azman believed more can be done by the industry and its ecosystem.

“The hardware sector has seen massive innovation to address growing data and energy consumptions in the data centre industry. Equipment that are 8-to-15 years old are inefficient, but local players may not have the money to reinvest into these power equipment – this is something that all data centre players need to priorities,” says Azman. “On our side, we will continue to make our data centres more energy-efficient through new cooling technology and power distribution systems.”

Today’s servers can run at much higher temperatures than the perceive average industry standards, Azman noted. This reduces cooling requirements and lowers energy consumption substantially. Servers had to be kept at 22 degrees Celsius to prevent overheating and breakdowns but advanced servers can be run between 27-32 degrees Celsius, he said. “The free air on a cool night in Malaysia is actually enough to keep today’s servers cool but the market is not yet ready to accept free air cooling instead of power-hungry mechanical cooling

“This is where the industry needs to take proactive measures to re-educate clients on the possibility of using higher temperatures in the data centre to reduce power consumption,” he urged.

Azman said the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDeC) has been at the forefront of conducting studies on this. He thinks data centre players can do more to push for market acceptance. AIMS is working closely with MDeC on this. They recently held a forum with key players from various industries on recent developments in data centres including running on higher temperatures.

“Unless we start looking into all these factors soon and make changes across the ecosystem, the data centre industry is going to be one of the key contributors to global warming,” warned Azman.

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