Data Center Sustainability and How to Achieve It

For three decades, as the world has spun increasingly faster through the digital age, we’ve seen an influx of data-driven services and products—from the device you’re reading this on to the methodologies with which we do our jobs every day, or request a dinner reservation, book a hotel, conduct our banking, or consume news and entertainment. It’s fair to suggest that there are very few aspects of life that don’t rely on or haven’t been affected by the processing of data. 

Data centers are highly interconnected. Between edge environments, cloud connectivity, multitenant facilities, and the expansion of hyperscale facilities around the world, overall connectivity and reduced data transfer latency equals more data moving around the world at a faster clip. 

In an era when sustainability is the new lodestar for the foreseeable future, what are some of the challenges we face in making data centers more efficient? How do we reduce consumption when most indicators suggest an increase in data center construction and usage overall?

Consider it an opportunity, not a challenge

Historically, you couldn’t have a conversation regarding sustainability and data centers without mentioning water consumption. Water-cooled data centers have long been in use as a necessity to diffuse equipment heat; further, the processes involved in using the water to cool equipment consumed even more power. Then, there’s the equipment itself—servers, switches, racks, power distribution units, management and processing devices, lighting, security, cooling . . . it all takes a toll.

These aren’t insurmountable obstacles, however. New technologies and methodologies can significantly alter the landscape. New designs for facilities that use less water, optimize airflow, leverage higher-efficiency battery technologies and smarter lighting can all play a part in creating data centers that consume less power AND produce more cost benefits. 

More efficient uses of space and power, such as building higher racks to create a smaller server footprint, can lead to more focused cooling methods. Lower-impact, direct cooling solutions can help eliminate the need to cool an entire room and reduce energy consumption and costs.

Built-in environmental censors, automation, and “smart” facility management tools can be leveraged to ensure visibility to environmental controls, air flow, battery monitoring and more to provide accurate reporting and help optimize your operations. 

Small Changes Can Lead to Big Transformations

In addition to the power-and-cooling processes of a data center, there are other means of pushing toward sustainability. Recycling programs can help operators limit the amount of waste created in their facilities and move closer to their own sustainability goals.

In fact, Wesco frequently assembles our customers’ products in our warehouses, load them to specification, and use reduced packaging and consolidation for our final delivery to the customer site. We gather the leftover packaging, measure it by volume, and recycle it, providing our customers with the documentation so that they can register it with their own programs. We work with many manufacturers to decrease the amount of packaging and waste at the product origin site.  And, of course, we work closely with manufacturers to help specify the most efficient products and solutions for our customers’ needs. 

It’s not an overstatement to say that small, incremental changes in operations, culture, or supply chain and procurement can lead to huge leaps in sustainability. Wesco works with our customers and manufacturers to ensure that there are always pathways to more efficiency, and that we’re always blazing new trails to sustainability.