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Posted by Matt Edgley on 10-Jan-2022 11:05:27

Are data centres really all that bad for the environment?

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We’ve talked in recent blog posts about the need for data centres, and the industry as a whole, to focus on sustainability and becoming more efficient. But are data centres really all that bad for the environment?  

Currently, the IT industry contributes between 2% and 6% of total global greenhouse emissions. You might think that isn’t too bad, but it’s on a par with the aviation industry and energy demand for data centres is roughly doubling every four years. So yes, something needs to be done to counter and combat the effects. 

But what if we didn’t use data centres? What if they didn’t exist?

Well if we roll ourselves back in time decade or so, to a world where servers chugged along - inefficiently - in broom cupboards and under desks, cooled by 30 year old air con systems with no way to measure usage and efficiency, well then that 6% becomes a much higher figure. So data centres might appear to be responsible for a high percentage of carbon output in terms of central facilities, but they are lowering the usage and the emissions overall, through shared, efficient infrastructure and are a vast improvement on days gone by.

In addition to this, there is a heck of a lot of good being done within that 6% of consumption. Valuable R&D, vaccine development, cancer research, genetic medicines - science and critical engineering that will result in the answers we need to turn the environmental and medical tide. All of this progress would be slower, more laborious and perhaps even non-existent without the technologies that are provided by data centres such as cloud computing, edge computing, super fast connectivity and more. 

So there is something to be said for the good that data centres offer. Progression through digital transformation is changing the world of science, medicine and indeed our everyday lives, for the better. Without data centres, many of the industries we depend on - from something as simple as an Amazon Prime delivery - would be very different to how we experience them today. 

But of course, data centres need to be part of the solution for broad decarbonisation. Organisations may think - we’ve put stuff in the cloud, we’re helping the planet - but data centre providers need to be taking bold steps towards carbon neutrality, so that whilst supporting and enabling technological and economic growth as an industry, they are also taking leaps in energy efficiencies and sustainability to make sure that they are not part of the problem, but an absolutely essential part of the solution.

Topics: cloud hosting, cloud, it industry, power, energy efficiency, data centres, carbon neutrality

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