The time is now to curb the environmental impact of Canadians’ data usage

The COVID-19 crisis shows Canadians just how critical the data centre industry is. As governments, businesses, and individuals have moved online to uphold public health guidelines, data centres have stepped up to deliver the IT services needed to support this massive shift in behaviour. Simply put, our streaming services, work emails and collaboration tools like Zoom and Skype simply wouldn’t work without data centres. They’ve powered our lives during the pandemic.  

It also appears that the data explosion brought on by the pandemic is here to stay: 90 per cent of Canadian businesses are willing to speed up their transition to digital operations, while 48 per cent of them are concerned they will need to maintain long-term remote operations as a result of the pandemic, according to a Maru/Blue and OVHcloud survey conducted in June 2020. In short, access to more data will be needed to continue to fuel the remote work-first economy. 

With the demand for digital services only growing, it’s imperative the data centre industry as a whole manage the long-term energy impact generated by data. Work has been done already: a study by the International Energy Agency (IEA), published this year, has shown that despite the exponential growth in data volume in the last ten years, data center power consumption worldwide has remained relatively flat, due to joint efforts in terms of energy efficiency and environmental policy. 

It’s time for all organizations in the data centre industry to keep up the pressure and make a positive change. Here are five steps all major data centre players can take to deliver the pipeline of data that Canadians need while supporting Canada’s Federal Sustainable Development Strategy

  1. Set realistic targets: It is important to set goals that are both realistic and impactful and for organizations to hold themselves accountable to achieving these goals. Setting specific targets, establishing a clear carbon strategy and identifying key activity areas will help them track progress and identify tangible actions and workstreams. These targets could be as simple as increasing the use of renewable energy within the next nine months, or only supporting the implementation of carbon-neutral technologies.  
  2. Look at mature energy sources: Most data centres have already begun to look at using more renewable sources of energy to reduce their water and carbon consumption. The journey to energy maturity involves balancing increasing financial investment, risk and potential impact on operations against the benefits of renewable energy use. One area to consider is data centre site selection. At OVHcloud, we look for regions that can offer a strong mix of renewables in the utility grid and those further along the journey can look to develop partnerships with organizations that offer high-quality renewables projects at the regional grid level.
  3. Optimize water, energy and carbon usage: A traditional view of data centre operations pits service delivery performance against energy efficiency gains. Today, however, sustainability planning is fast becoming an integral element of data centre design and operation, that can reduce costs and risks associated with water, energy and carbon (WEC). It’s possible to reduce the WEC profile through the use of closed-loop water-cooling technology that brings liquid cooling into the CPU, and free air cooling. Looking further ahead, data centres can also incorporate server metrics into facilities measures to create a more holistic view of the data centre.
  4. Make use of the circular economy: The data centre industry is well-positioned to capitalize on the concept of ‘circular economy’ but to do so it must consider re-using, recycling and upcycling its components. If design efficiency is key, it starts with new data centres being sited in existing industrial facilities and re-using racks and servers to reduce the creation of embedded carbon associated with new builds. LCA (life cycle assessment) is becoming a standardized way of measuring the impact of a product, from its creation, through use, to end-of-life and fortunately, most organizations are already recycling the parts that can’t be re-used.
  5. Educate users to amplify green impact: As diverse is the array of feedback on sustainability, customers or the general public are all calling for more action. To restore confidence and boost awareness, cloud providers must develop energy metrics that track progress and inform cloud users about their own impact, so they can make the right decisions about their own usage.

While cloud is more part of the solution than part of the problem when it comes to acting for sustainability, that shouldn’t stop the data centre industry from setting ambitious goals. Through the optimization of resource requirements, energy efficiency and consumption monitoring, the path has been laid out to reach carbon neutrality by 2025 and achieve net zero emissions by 2030. It’s now on us to act. 


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
François Sterin
François Sterin
Francois is Executive VP, Chief Industrial Officer at OVHcloud. In this role, Francois leads the technical infrastructure of OVHcloud from the servers assembly lines to design, construction and operations of the data centres globally, as well as implementing the ambitious OVHcloud sustainability agenda. Francois joined the OVHcloud adventure in 2017 after 15 years of experience in developing global infrastructure for Telecom and Internet companies.

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