Circular IT series - Virtus Data Centres: Green ambitions need new (sustainable) traditions

This is a guest post for Computer Weekly in our ‘circular IT economy’ series written David Watkins in his capacity as solutions director at VIRTUS Data Centres — a company known for its green approach to datacentre resources provision. 

The company says it will only ever use truly renewable energy from wind, hydro or solar sources. By doing this, Virtus saves around 45,000,000 tonnes of CO2 every year, enough to fill the UK’s Wembley Stadium five times over – the company is dedicated to achieving net zero emissions on all reportable activities by 2030.

With many of our circular IT stories focusing on hardware products, physical equipment and all manner of gadgets, these posts are grouped here under Inspect-a-Gadget – however on this occasion, Watkins and team point to wider issues stemming from our use of datacentres, many of which will end up powering the devices we all use every day in our hands.

Watkins writes as follows…

If you work in the fast-moving, high-waste technology industry, chances are that you are familiar with the circular economy; a model of production and consumption which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, refurbishing and recycling materials and products (usually IT hardware) for as long as possible. It’s become a central tenet of many sustainability strategies – and one which is already paying dividends for thousands of businesses all over the world.

For the datacentre industry in particular, adopting the circular economy comes as second nature – or at least it always should do.

Datacentre operators already know that to achieve true sustainability they must embrace a holistic approach, for example adhering to BREEAM regulations (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) which look at the entire lifespan of a building – from concept and design to construction, operation and maintenance.

This circular approach ensures that datacentre providers are not just meeting their obligations today, but also building a sustainable strategy for the long term.

So how are data centre providers using their experience of holistic green strategies to fully embrace the circular economy? Further here, what benefits are they seeing from doing so?

Maintain, refurbish, renew & recycle

In a circular economy operators should learn from Google’s model, which aims to “maintain, refurbish, renew and recycle” equipment.

  • To maintain is to get more life out of all materials in a datacentre – so, when an asset requires repair, refurbished parts are increasingly used.
  • To refurbish has the goal of ‘deploying equipment twice’. For example, decommissioned servers are dismantled into separate components, inspected and prepped for use as refurbished inventory that delivers remanufactured servers with performance equivalent to new machines.
  • To reuse means that parts that the customer no longer has use for are redistributed on the secondary market. Last year, 2.1 million units were productively used by other organisations around the world.
  • Finally, the industry seeks to recycle those parts that cannot be reused.

It’s a compelling model and, while it is currently larger organisations that are leading the charge towards this approach, as the sustainability agenda gains momentum, it is becoming more widespread and easier to achieve.

Customers are responsible too

Watkins: When it comes to circular IT, the datacentre industry is in a strong position to lead by example.

Of course, establishing a circular economy approach isn’t without its challenges. One potential barrier is the ownership of the equipment itself. Most datacentre providers don’t own the IT equipment they host. Ultimately, it is down to their customers to implement these kinds of initiatives, so a big part of ensuring the adoption of circular economy processes in months and years to come will be to educate and encourage partners and customers to embrace it.

Another trend we’re likely to see is a move away from just focusing on IT hardware and applying the same principles to the wider infrastructure of a facility.

For example, we ourselves identified an opportunity to improve the section valves deployed in Fire Suppression Systems (FSS). The goal was to introduce enhanced functionality, which was challenging to do ‘in-situ’, so the company fabricated a small number of the new configuration valves off-site. Some valves were swapped out on-site and the originals were returned to the manufacturer for ‘part harvesting’. The original valves were dismantled off-site and most of the parts were reused to create a more enhanced valve, which were then returned to site and installed.

The result was little waste, lower cost and speedier installation. 

New (sustainable) standards & traditions

The circular economy is here to stay and the great news is that the datacentre industry in a strong position to lead by example.

Datacentre operators have customers who operate across most industry verticals, so are in an enviable position of seeing how the recycling and reuse of hardware is approached by different sectors – both to learn from it and share best practice. Organisations should be committed to sharing knowledge on the circular economy with customers and partners, encouraging future adoption and highlighting the potential benefits of the approach.

Image source: VIRTUS Data Centres






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