Is your data driving climate change?


By Glenn McPherson, NetApp
Monday, 18 December, 2017

Is your data driving climate change?

Green, efficient and clean storage will build our partnership with the planet, not ruin it.

IT can save the world. Okay, maybe that sounds a bit ambitious, but just hear me out. You might be surprised to hear that despite recently committing to the 2020 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Australia’s energy emissions have recently pushed to a record high. While we only generate about 1.5% of global emissions, we remain one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases on a per person basis.

If we’re going to meet our commitment, we need to look at the sources of the emissions and how to cut back. While initiatives such as Adelaide’s push to be the world’s first carbon-neutral city are a big step in the right direction, it’s only the start. IT may not be a typical CO2 villain, but there is still plenty of room for improvement in the industry, starting with the data centre.

Climate change through data

Data centres require significant energy to operate and, in most cases, they are powered on at full capacity, around the clock. Because of this, they tend to overheat and need a continuous, intensive cooling system, wasting up to 90% of the power they actually need. Currently, data centres consume only 3% of the global electricity supply, but this is growing at a rate of 12% per year — putting an enormous strain on energy supplies and threatening efforts to contain global warming.

As the volume of data grows and demands on IT systems increase, the industry needs to become conscious of controlling its carbon footprint. Annual global IP traffic is expected to reach two zettabytes per year by 2019, when global internet traffic will be 66 times that of 2005. At this rate, it won’t be long before IT hardware, particularly storage, emerges as the new threat in climate change discussions. Enterprises should be evaluating these climate risks and adopting a strategic approach to green IT and sustainability now, in order to remain competitive in the future.


Will storage deliver the next green innovation? My contention is that it should. While the carbon footprint of the IT industry is part of a bigger ‘greener ICT’ strategy, data growth and storage have a direct correlation. As the volume of data goes up, so does the need to store all this data and, consequently, the demand for data storage systems.

The good news is the industry is already thinking along these lines. Green data storage is a priority for many businesses, albeit for the deeply practical aim of saving money. Measures to reduce the use of hazardous materials, maximise energy efficiency, enable better product life cycle management and increase the use biodegradable components are all helping IT go green. Organisations are also more closely adhering to energy standards when procuring new IT, and are at least considering renewable and cleaner sources to power their infrastructure.

But in addition, there are a few storage-specific measures that can have a deep impact on minimising environment impact:

  • Reducing data redundancy: Today, companies store data (and multiple copies of this data) in various formats. This may be necessary from a compliance and business continuity point of view, but it multiplies the cost (and energy consumption) manifold. Finding ways to secure the data such that fewer copies need to stored, and in efficient formats, will go a long way in minimising storage needs.
  • Avoiding overprovisioning: With planning cycles being fairly long, most organisations generally over-anticipate requirements and invest in storage even before the actual need arises. As a result, they end up incurring substantial energy costs for hardware that is just sitting idle. Technologies that allow for a ‘grow as you need’ approach — eg, virtualisation, cloud— can help resolve this issue.
  • More efficient technology: Newer data storage technologies offer the most efficient way to store data, often without the need for any compression or de-duplication technologies. And the good news is that they become more cost/energy-efficient as the volume of data goes up.

Tech innovations have dramatically improved our day-to-day life, but they have also placed ecological and social burdens on the planet. With businesses and consumers producing more data than ever before, the next decade will be all about storage. If we focus on ensuring that our systems are green, efficient and clean, we can grow our businesses in partnership with the planet, not at its expense.

Image credit: © Furrer

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