Can data centres make the world a greener place?

April 17th, 2014 Blog, Cloud Platform, Data Centre, Future, Internet

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Green City

With Google, Facebook and Apple all earning high marks from Greenpeace over the renewable energy credentials of their data centres, we ask what this means for the rest of the industry? Can data centres lead a worldwide shift to greener energy sources?

A new report from environmental organisation Greenpeace has praised companies like Google and Facebook for their environmental efforts. The report claims that they, along with computer giant Apple, are leading the shift towards a greener internet.

All three companies are making ground in their efforts to power their data centre operations with 100% renewable energy. Apple recently hit the 100% renewable mark  in its data centres. And it continues to work on similar projects like solar power.

We recently reported on Facebook’s efforts to create new style data centres  and how they’re one of new breed of companies both using and investing in sustainable energy sources. Their Luleå data centre in Sweden is powered by renewable hydroelectric energy from the nearby Lule River. Similarly, the Green Mountain Data Centre in Norway uses hydro-power from a nearby fjord, and also uses the water to cool its equipment.

What does it mean for businesses?

It’s positive news. With large companies like this looking at greener options, others will surely follow suit. With Facebook laying the groundwork in design and power innovation, it creates the foundations for others to adopt. So we should start seeing more data service providers showing a greater interest sustainable powering methods.

And it’s great news for the companies that use data services. By housing your data in a data centre, or making the switch from the traditional in-house IT set up to a more virtual or cloud-based option, you can improve the green credentials of your business. Rather than using a standard power supply from the National Grid, your data will be running on power from the centre. And it will likely also save you money.

So are we heading for a greener internet?

The signs are definitely positive. As data centre firms look to renewable power sources, especially such big players as Facebook and Google, we’ll likely see a shift towards more firms looking to power their data centres in a similar way, or outsource their data requirements to facilities with better green credentials.

And if the data centre industry – one of the largest consumers of electricity – does manage to make ground in renewable energy, there is a real chance that it will influence power consumption and energy resources in many other industries. Put simply, if data centres can make green energy work, there’s no reason others can’t. Greenpeace is even hoping that such large organisations will be able to leverage their influence outside of the IT industry and force utility companies to adopt provide more renewable options.

Some data centres are already looking to new types of energy sources in the UK, with Infinity launching a methane-powered facility in Suffolk. So clearly there is interest from users looking for cleaner, greener facilities, and the companies running the facilities are keen to cater for that need. But there’s still a way to go.

It’s disappointing that not everyone seems to be following suit. For example, Amazon still powers 28% of its cloud operation with coal, 27% with nuclear power, 25% with gas. With its popular AWS web provision, Amazon offers cloud and data services to a large number of businesses throughout the world. So it’s sure to be next on Greepeace’s list of companies to call to account.

To see any real change in the way the industry is moving, all the big players need to get behind a green move. Otherwise, though many have good intentions, the likelihood is that cost will win out, and many companies will still look at the bottom line and focus on the cheaper options – in spite of their power source.

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