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Datacentre operators must prepare for power use and emissions regulations

Colocation provider Digital Realty says datacentre operators must prepare for tighter regulations around emission levels and power use

The datacentre sector must overhaul its approach to sustainability in preparation for regulations around emissions and power use, colocation provider Digital Realty has warned.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Ricky Cooper, vice-president for Europe Middle East and Africa (Emea) at Digital Realty, said the datacentre industry’s emission levels are at a point where the industry can expect regulators to sit up and take notice.

“If you look at the future with driverless cars, the internet of things and the growth of connected devices in medicine, you’re going to need more datacentres. The sector is exploding at the moment, but we’re only at the start,” said Cooper.

“We’ve got higher emissions than the airline industry now, and that’s already tightly regulated. So it’s just a matter of time before the same happens to the datacentre sector – but how do you prepare for that?

Datacentre operators have come under growing pressure in recent years, from the likes of Greenpeace, to increase their reliance on renewable power sources, while taking steps to improve the overall energy efficiency of the sites they run.

Some have cautioned the industry about addressing the amount of power datacentres consume, in the light of warnings from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers about the risk of energy supply problems in the future.

Read more about datacentre energe efficiency

Energy labelling scheme

Through Digital Realty’s involvement with the European Datacentre Association, Cooper said he is aware that datacentre energy efficiency is already a talking point in Brussels, but – to-date – discussions have focused on the server and storage side of things.

He said European regulators have previously mooted the idea of introducing an energy labelling scheme – similar to the one used to denote the power consumption of household devices – for servers and storage.

The problem with this idea, though, is that it would not take into account the other items that contribute towards datacentre power consumption, which is what an effective piece of regulation would need to do, he added.

While these types of regulatory issues are being worked through, datacentre operators should consider taking pre-emptive action to improve the energy efficiency and emission of their facilities.

“I do believe it is inevitable new regulations will come into force, and you need to at least think about it as you’re building out your datacentres and strategy, because you could spend a lot of money this year, and then some new regulation comes in and suddenly you have to change everything,” Cooper said.

“There is always a cost with regulation, and that’s the big thing everyone needs to bear in mind. Whether that’s regulation around pollution or whatever, it could be extremely costly for the datacentre industry.”

Local environmental pressure

The urgency for reform is more acute among UK operators with aging facilities that need to be upgraded. Where inner city facilities are concerned, selling on those sites could provide them with a financial means of building more efficient facilities outside of built-up, metropolitan areas.

“There are new buildings coming online all the time, but– in nearly every company’s portfolio – there are a lot of buildings that are 10 years old that customers are leaving. How do you efficiently revamp those sites and get the best use out of them? That’s a challenge,” said Cooper.

“The good thing about inner city sites is that they tend to hold their property value very well. So repurposing them isn’t such a problem, and you can offset the cost of building a datacentre outside of the city because of that.”

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, industry watcher Ian Bitterlin proposed the idea – at the Datacentre Summit South event on 10 February 2015 – of building facilities in the basements of hotels and offices for heat re-use purposes.

Cooper suggested there was mileage in the idea – particularly if there is potential for pre-existing, inner city datacentres to have part of their buildings repurposed for commercial use.

“These types of sites are already very well connected, and that’s what you’re looking for from a datacentre with the take-off of the internet of things and everything else. Key to responding to that will be having many more connected buildings,” he said.

Building for business growth

In terms of how Digital Realty intends to respond to the boom in demand for datacentre capacity that the internet of things (IoT) and other industry trends are likely to cause, Cooper said the firm had previously pursued a buy-and-build growth strategy.

The company recently found itself at the centre of unconfirmed reports that it could be on the cusp of acquiring rival colocation provider Interxion. The company previously lost out to Equinix in snapping up TelecityGroup.

Cooper declined to comment on the Interxion rumours, except to say the organisation was firmly focused on pushing ahead with integrating Telx which it acquired for $1.89bn in July 2015.

“The winner going forward is going to be datacentre provider that can offer a global, connected portfolio of datacentres. In the past, we have built and acquired; going forward, it’s not something we can comment on at this time – but the industry as a whole is consolidating,” said Cooper.

“The focus for us right now is integrating Telx and doing it well, on an international basis, before we start looking at anything else.”

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