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The global colocation community expects sustainability to become an important source of competitive difference between operators in the next three years, suggests data from analyst house 451 Research.
The market watcher quizzed more than 800 datacentre service operators from around the world about their opinions on sustainability, and what plans they have in place to improve the environmental friendliness of their facilities, as part of a research project commissioned by Schneider Electric.
More than half (57%) of the operators questioned predicted that sustainability will become an increasingly important competitive differentiator for them in the years to come, while 26% said they think it already is presently. Even so, less than half (43%) of the poll participants said they have sustainability-focused “strategic initiatives” and “efficiency improvements” planned for their infrastructure, despite operators acknowledging this to be an area of growing importance to their clients.
This evidenced by the responses operators gave when asked why they were choosing to prioritise sustainability initiatives, with “customer requirements” name-checked as the predominant driver by more than a quarter of respondents.
The second most common driver was a want to improve the long-term operational resiliency of their facilities, flagged by 40% of respondents, whereas 10% said they were banking on sustainability to bring in efficiency-related cost-savings.
On the “customer requirements” point, Daniel Bizo, senior research analyst at 451 Research, said sustainability is major topic of discussion in the datacentre sector, and is clearly “high on the priority list” for operators, but they must ensure their actions are keeping pace with client expectations.
“Ultimately, expectations from customers, regulators and the public at large will only become more pressing as the effects of climate change become more pronounced,” he said. “As global datacenter infrastructure grows in response to higher demand for digital services, so does interest in its considerable environmental impact.”
Digging deeper into the data
In the accompanying report, Bizo expands on these points further by referencing how quickly demand for datacentres is increasing across the globe, and – in line with this – so too is the amount of power the sector consumes.
With these trends tipped to continue for the foreseeable, the sector has already started to attract the attention of regulators and the general public. At the same time, sustainability is an issue of growing importance for corporations in various sectors, said Bizo, in the report.
To reinforce this point, Bizo referenced the uptick in the number of firms listed on the S&P 500 stock market index that now publish sustainability reports of their own, from 20% in 2011 to 86% in 2018.
“The mushrooming of datacentres has attracted attention to the growth in their resource consumption, however. In recent years, both regulators and the public have become more curious about the environmental impact of popular online services such as streaming videos, browsing content-rich social media and playing online games,” the report stated.
“Although the world’s largest technology companies invite the most scrutiny, general awareness of datacentres and their environmental impact is growing fast as a result, raising the environmental standards expected of multi-tenanted datacentre partners.
“In the coming years, major technology players and their datacentre providers will need to answer questions about their sustainability practices and demonstrate they do everything within their power to improve. IT vendors and cloud service providers are instrumental in bringing about a world economy that is gentler on the environment by improving efficiencies in virtually all industries, which includes enterprise IT,” the report continued.
A focus on green IT
Sustainability is a key focus of Schneider Electric’s 2020 Digital Innovation Summit, which the release date of the report coincides with.
During the event’s opening remarks, Schneider Electric chairman and CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire, said focusing on sustainability and energy efficiency is nothing new for the firm, but the looming threat of climate change reinforces why these are matters society as a whole needs to start taking more action on.
“The main challenge of our generation is probably climate change, but there is some good news. We are the generation that came to know about it. We are the generation, and probably the only generation that can change the trajectory of carbon emissions on there for climate change,” said Tricoire.
For that to occur will require some major changes to how we live our lives, with Tricoire championing the notion of increased digitisation throughout society as one way of achieving this, while the other focuses on ramping up the use of renewable energy across the world.
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From a digitisation perspective, he referred to the mass spread of smart buildings, smart cities, smart homes and smart manufacturing processes, which will serve to make the way we all live more energy efficient.
“Be prepared for a world which will be much more electric, but it's not going to be the same electricity… it’s going to be renewable,” he said.
“It creates a future which is much better than the one we have today and that future will be green. Think about solar energy, micro grids, net zero carbon] building," he added. "We see a future that's going to be digital and electric, and that will make our environment, smart and green.”
Schneider Electric is far from the only datacentre player talking up the importance of sustainability, as the last few months have seen several of the major colocation providers – including Digital Realty and CyrusOne – make multi-year and global commitments to curb the carbon emissions generated by their operations.
At the same time, a number of the hyperscale cloud community’s big hitters have also embarked on initiatives geared towards ensuring the growing demand they are seeing for their services does not come at the expense of the environment.
To this point, Google set out plans in September 2020 that it intends to power all of its datacentres and campuses worldwide using carbon-free energy sources by 2030, while Microsoft pledged in January 2020 to become a carbon negative entity by the same year.
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