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OpenUK debuts carbon-negative datacentre blueprint at COP26

Open source championing not-for-profit OpenUK puts forward plan to reduce the environmental impact of datacentres, with an emphasis on encouraging site and hardware reuse

Converting derelict retail and office spaces into 5G-connected edge datacentres would go some way towards helping the server farm industry cut its greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80%, it is claimed.

It is one of a series of suggestions that open source championing not-for-profit organisation OpenUK has proposed as part of its blueprint to helping the global datacentre industry develop new practices and ways of workings that will put operators on a path to becoming carbon-negative entities.

Other proposals put forward in the blueprint, dubbed Patchwork Kilt, include encouraging the hyperscale cloud giants to recycle their under-utilised, high-end datacentre hardware so that it can be refurbished and recertified as open to extends its lifecycle by allowing other operators to make use of it.

 The initiative is geared towards helping the datacentre industry as a whole cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, while also contributing towards a 90% reduction in the amount of physical resources that go into constructing and kitting out a server farm.

OpenUK announced Patchwork Kilt at its Open Technology for Sustainability Day in Glasgow, which was run as an accompanying fringe event for the two-week COP26 climate change conference that concludes Friday 12 November.

Speaking at the the event, OpenUK chief sustainability officer Cristian Parrino described Patchwork Kilt as a “carbon-negative datacentre blueprint” that seeks to make the datacentre industry more environmentally friendly by addressing six interconnected “buckets” pertaining to how server farms are run.

These include how they are built, powered, regulated and kitted out from a hardware, software and networking perspective, but the focus of the blueprint will initially be on the first of these areas.  

“In the first version of this blueprint, we’re focusing heavily on local and we’re focusing heavily on refurbishing buildings,” said Parrino.

“If you look across the building bucket and the network bucket, there are two converging trends here. We’re seeing 5G and edge-based networks being deployed closer to end-users and – at the same time – we’re seeing retail and office space being under-utilised [due to the pandemic].”

This provides opportunities, therefore, for derelict buildings to be repurposed as edge-compute environments, which also has the potential to open up local employment opportunities within the areas these sites are operated, he continued.

The blueprint is still a work in progress, and the idea is that the open source community will collaborate and contribute ideas of their own that will result in new “buckets” or patches being added to the Kilt over time in support of OpenUK’s to make the world’s datacentres greener.

To support this portion of the initiative, OpenUK has handed over responsibility for overseeing the future development of Patchwork Kilt to the open source Eclipse Foundation.

To-date, the initiative’s development has been informed by the input of members of the Open Compute Project, The Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance, IT Renew, the Scottish 5G Centre, and the Octopus Energy Centre for Net Zero.

“Projects like this one can demonstrate a lasting impact on energy efficient computing and datacentre design, based on making the most of circular economy design and open source hardware and software together,” said OpenUK CEO, Amanda Brock.

“We think this is the first time this approach has been taken, and we are pleased that the Eclipse Foundation will support getting more users to take advantage of this work.”

Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, said the emergence of the initiative is timely, given the growing demand for datacentre capacity across the globe coupled with the heightening concerns about the environmental impact of server farms.

“The demand for datacentres is not abating and the amount of power required by new applications and services will grow. As the internet of things [IoT] grows and edge computing develops, the Patchwork Kilt project represents an innovative approach to carbon neutral implementations,” he said.

“We are very happy to accept this project alongside our existing open source IoT and supply chain projects which are used to benefit millions of people every day.”

Before going public with the news of Patchwork Quilt, OpenUK’s Brock told the event’s attendees about how sustainability has become an increasingly important part of the work the organisation does to promote the benefits of open source over the course of the past 12 months.

To demonstrate this, she pointed to the appointment of Parrino as the organisation’s first chief sustainability officer, and the publishing of OpenUK’s first sustainability focused strategy and policy document.

“We’ve moved away from focusing on the economics [of open source],” she said. “We shifted away from that with intention to look at the impact that open has as a societal benefit.

“What’s become blatantly obvious to me is that to build a fairer and more sustainable planet, the open principles must be recognised as playing an essential, enabling role...I have no doubt that OpenUK’s sustainability strategy and the work we’re doing will influence business, government and education,” she added.

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