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5 Reasons Data Centers Need to Plan for Climate Change

By: Tom Banta on June 24, 2019

Scientists around the world have accumulated substantial evidence to suggest that global temperatures could rise between 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. Even a modest increase of 1.8 to 5.4 degrees could have tremendous impacts around the world, fundamentally altering entire ecosystems and disrupting entire geographic regions.

While data centers may seem far removed from these predictions, there are a number of reasons why climate change will affect them directly in terms of how they operate and how they provide services to customers. Organizations that fail to take these factors into account could easily find themselves at a competitive disadvantage in the very near future, so it’s worth considering just how data centers will be impacted by climate change.

5 Reasons Data Centers Need to Plan for Climate Change

1. Alternative Energy Demands

As more organizations prioritize sustainable energy practices to reduce their carbon footprint and promote sustainability, they are putting pressure on their suppliers and vendors to do the same. Some of this pressure is coming from consumers, who are increasingly treating environmental consciousness as a key differentiator in crowded, competitive markets. According to some research, companies that embrace sustainability are being rewarded for their efforts, posting better growth rates than their more complacent competitors.

Given the massive amounts of power they consume each year, data centers make for an easy target when it comes to measuring energy usage. Private, on-premises data center solutions are notoriously inefficient in terms of power consumption and cooling. They lack the optimized infrastructure needed to maximize performance effectively, and they’re usually stored in an environment that wasn’t designed with energy efficiency in mind.

Colocation facilities, on the other hand, offer state-of-the-art infrastructure that allows them to run the same workloads with far less energy. Green data centers can also take an aggressive approach to sustainability by using Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to promote investments in alternative energy sources. With major companies like Apple and Google leveraging their hyperscale facilities to promote the development of more green data centers, all organizations need to develop their own plan for sustainability. As climate change becomes a more pressing issue for organizations, facilities that haven’t made the commitments or investments in alternative energy will find it difficult to compete.

2. More Frequent Natural Disasters

While there has long been a general understanding that an increase in global temperatures could result in more severe weather events, scientists are now able to directly attribute individual disasters to climate change. According to some of the latest research, up to 60 percent of locations across North America, Europe, East Asia, and southern South America will experience three times as many extreme events in the coming years.

The potential impact on data centers is fairly obvious. More disasters mean a greater risk of power disruption, data loss, and physical damage to equipment, all of which could cripple a business. Planning for natural disasters is always a key consideration for any facility, but the likelihood that these disasters will occur more frequently makes it more important than ever for data centers to develop comprehensive data center disaster recovery plans. They can start by building up robust redundancies that allow the facility to operate on backup power without suffering server downtime, as well as implementing regular maintenance schedules to keep those systems in peak operating condition.

3. Push for AI Efficiencies

As organizations push to make their operations more efficient in order to reduce power consumption and minimize climate-related risk, they will increasingly turn to predictive analytics for guidance. Powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, these programs will make a wide range of energy-saving measures possible. They will also help organizations and governments manage the human impacts of climate change more effectively. How, for instance, will climate change impact logistics and supply chains? Or how will the international community manage the influx of migrants displaced by natural disasters or inhospitable conditions?

Green data centers will play a major role in empowering the next generation of AI and machine learning. Whether it’s hyperscale facilities providing the scalable cloud computing power that powers advanced analytics or simply meeting the data storage needs for companies using Internet of Things (IoT) devices to gather actionable data from the edge of their networks, data centers need to take steps to prepare for future AI demands. If scientists and engineers ultimately develop practical carbon capture and scrubbing technology that makes it possible to reverse emissions trends, AI algorithms will undoubtedly play a huge role.

4. New Location Strategies

As climate change disrupts weather patterns around the world, companies need to reconsider their data center location strategies. Many organizations are still assessing risk based on outdated information. In March of 2019, for instance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released new proposed flood maps along the western coast of Florida, the first such update in almost 30 years. Companies that once felt secure from flooding suddenly discovered that their data backup solution was not as safe as they believed.

Now more than ever, a good data center location strategy needs to take a long-term view. With climate change increasing the risk of extreme weather events and threatening to displace millions, it’s important to think about how conditions in a geographic region could change over the next few years and impact disaster recovery risks. As data center companies build new facilities, they need to consider how they fit into a broader location strategy that takes changing climate conditions into account in order to provide better security and peace of mind to their customers.

5. Cooling Needs

Data center cooling technology continues to play a major role in improving energy efficiency. While many facilities still rely on traditional HVAC cooling systems, innovations in infrastructure management and AI have helped even these conventional solutions to utilize less power, driving down energy costs. New technologies such as the various forms of liquid cooling could also help green data centers to increase their computing power without a corresponding spike in energy usage. In the aggregate, these innovations can help organizations reduce their carbon footprint and promote sustainability.

Rising global temperatures could lead more companies to locate sustainable data centers or colocate with facilities in cooler climates. These data centers incorporate sophisticated cooling systems that utilize the outside air more efficiently to keep cooling costs down. Since hotter climates are expected to grow even warmer in the coming years, identifying growth opportunities in colder regions could be paired with advancements in cooling technology to produce even better energy efficiency.

Climate change is already having a major impact on how companies formulate their data center strategy. As extreme weather events become more common and the demand for sustainable energy practices grows, they must consider how their data center solution accounts for these changes. Partnering with a flexible colocation facility with the agility needed to drive energy efficiency and provide viable backup solutions can help organizations address their sustainability concerns and disaster recovery needs more effectively as they move into a potentially disruptive future.

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