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Securing a Sustainable Future for Data Centres

by wrich

By: François Sterin – EVP, Chief Industrial Officer at OVHcloud

François Sterin, EVP, Chief Industrial Officer, OVHcloud

There are currently over 4 billion internet users globally. But connecting the world comes at a price for the planet. According to climatecare, internet usage accounts for 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions – and this number is predicted to double by 2025. The environmental footprint of the online world is constantly evolving, as organisations increasingly move to the cloud, creating ever-expanding storage and processing needs.  It is therefore vital that the people behind our servers and data centres take a 360-degree approach to sustainability to reduce their environmental impact.

This can be achieved by first reviewing the way data centres are set up, the supply chains they rely on and the hardware and software they use. Providers now have the responsibility to go even a step further and set achievable and ambitious targets that will help to effect real change. OVHcloud has set defined goals of producing 0% waste to landfill for its production centres by 2030, becoming carbon neutral on operations by 2025, and using 100% renewable energy by 2025.

Greener data centres

There has already been significant progress in creating more sustainable data centres. From a hardware point of view, this can be achieved in a number of ways.

The main impact of data centres on the environment is the huge amount of electricity required to power the servers and keep them cool. Using more efficient cooling systems, such as liquid cooling, will reduce energy consumption while monitoring it through PUE (power usage effectiveness) and WUE (water use efficiency) metrics. Closed-loop water cooling system helps us to cool down our data centres without the need of air-conditionning systems. Positive results can also be achieved by opting for natural air cooling versus air conditioning systems.

To provide less energy-consuming solutions it is also essential to give second and third life to the components used in data centres. OVHcloud uses fully removable servers, and each component is chosen specifically for easy reuse, recycle and repair to extend the lifespan of the hardware. Providers should use smarter, use longer and use less, by re-using racks, refurbishing components and creating servers made out of repaired, reused or refurbished components.

The choice of location and building type, and the reuse of industrial buildings, can also have a favourable impact on the environment. In the future, it will be critical to power facilities with a purely renewable energy mix. Our data centre in Quebec, located in a former Aluminium plant retrofitted to host our servers, for example is solely powered with sustainable energy, composed of hydroelectricity and wind farms.

This year’s collective worldwide waste electronic and electrical equipment will total an estimated 57.4 million tonnes – greater than the weight of the Great Wall of China. So electronic waste produced by our industry is another area that needs to be addressed. Measures include choosing sustainable packaging, optimising freight transportation, managing employee waste and IT components, and finding the right partners to facilitate the re-use of waste. All these actions will help to contribute to the end goal of eliminating waste to landfills completely.

Data helps understand 

But it is also what is within our servers that counts. Cloud providers have a responsibility to deploy meticulous sustainability monitoring – not just for themselves but also for their consumers. We partnered with European technology research institute Inria to enable users to view their real-time energy consumption and carbon footprint data via an API, giving them the power to see where they need to improve.  

Customers expect more and more transparency as well as data from operators, to monitor the environmental impact of the digital solutions delivered by data centres. Our objective is to give them the necessary insights into their own carbon footprint. 

An integral approach to the supply chain 

Data centres have a wide reach. They also have the power to optimise their supply chains and positively impact the entirety of the ecosystem. This starts with the selection of the suppliers and includes the use of sustainable packaging.

At OVHcloud we build our own servers and data centres. This allows us to control the production chain from beginning to end, including the choice of equipment, and means we are more agile in helping our customers find the most effective and low carbon energy saving solutions for their software. This holistic approach is more viable in the long term as it allows providers to extend the life of their servers and infrastructure, redistribute components from one data centre to the other, and test components to allow for best possible reuse and recycle, by sending them to partners to create new sources of raw materials.

A sustainable ecosystem is the only way forward

A commitment to green technology is no longer a ‘nice to have’. There is not only an economic benefit behind it but also a moral obligation to move towards net-zero and positively impact biodiversity.

The cloud industry needs to join forces to reach climate neutrality. By committing to the Climate Neutral Datacenter Pact, as OVHcloud has, we can collectively create change and support the industry’s contribution to a ‘European Green Deal’ – making Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Data centres should lead the way, by empowering the ecosystem, their clients, partners and employees to increase cloud sustainability.  

It is our responsibility to take climate action every step of the way and set ambitious environmental targets, as we play our part in helping to combat the climate crisis and secure a sustainable future.

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