How to Reduce Data Center Carbon Footprints

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Data centers face a uniquely modern challenge when it comes to climate. Government estimates place data center energy consumption at 10 to 50 times the energy per floor space of a normal commercial building. These estimates are further complicated by tenuous statistics on water consumption, which is not universally reported. As the use of information technology grows, businesses can adopt practices aimed at reducing data center carbon footprints.

This article identifies three major areas of improvement to reduce data center carbon footprints.

  • Remote Management & Truck Rolls
  • Data Center Consolidation Strategies
  • DCIM Management Tools

Remote management cuts down on truck rolls


“Truck rolls” refers to the traditional model of troubleshooting problems at the data center, in which a technician would have to be physically there to examine the issue. This process is estimated to cost hundreds of dollars per visit and wreaks a devastating environmental impact to maintain—for example, instances where the technician would need to be flown out to get to the place. In many of these cases, that impact is made for no reason, as “no-fault found” (NFF) visits account for a staggering number of visits to centers.

For this reason, remote management capabilities are one of the primary keys to reducing data center carbon footprints. Instead of having to fly in a technician, network engineers can access the data center software from any remote location. By allowing network engineers to regulate data center issues remotely, they reduce the:

  • Need to have technicians physically brought into the center
  • Financial, time-consuming, and environmental burden 
  • Number of NFF visits since engineers can remotely check for these problems

Remote management tools have become remarkably popular due to the manageable ground they provide to data centers looking to mitigate the avoidable environmental costs of daily operations.

Data Center Infrastructure Consolidation


Bringing the data center online presents numerous questions—what is the best way to do it? What are the risks? What hardware or software assets does my data center have that might affect the consolidation process?

Network engineers need to overcome these challenges, but the good news is they have several options regarding data center consolidation. The first is straightforward cloud migrations (i.e., moving all the data in the center online, where it can be accessed and deployed more rapidly). This method offers the most direct path to reducing data center carbon footprints. However, the process of doing so is long (six months to two years) and potentially jeopardizes data being transferred if no fail-safes are being utilized. 

For this reason, data centers are taking a more moderate approach to the cloud. There are a few basic approaches to this model: network managers can work with a “public cloud” (such as Microsoft Azure or AWS Direct Connect) for enhanced reliability and agility in the face of necessary disaster recovery.

Whatever the method, there are three significant reasons to look at data center consolidation options. These include:

1. Reducing data center carbon footprints

The demand for data services is rising exponentially, according to the International Energy Agency global data centre electricity use in 2020 alone was 200-250 TWh, or around 1% of global final electricity demand. Consolidating your data centers means reducing the amount of hardware used at each physical location, where fewer machines will accomplish the work once done by many. Beyond the general energy consumption reduction inherent in this process, some data centers will also consolidate physical locations, resulting in fewer physical centers. 

2. Enterprise benefits

Data center consolidation means that enterprises will be able to save on the cost of buying new hardware. Similarly, it can reduce software licensing costs since everything is being moved onto fewer systems. A great example of this is how the federal government achieved substantial savings since it started consolidating its data centers in 2010, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) “19 of the 24 agencies reported achieving an estimated $2.8 billion in cost savings and avoidances from fiscal years 2011 to 2015.”

3. Improved efficiency

The more hardware a center has, the more possible points of failure. Data center consolidation reduces error by eliminating potentially problematic hardware before it starts to fail. Consolidation also eliminates possible entry points for potential threats to the center (both physically and in terms of cybersecurity), improving security. 

According to the Uptime Institute’s 2021 Global Data Center Survey, outages, while less extensive than in previous years, have become way more expensive. Over 60% of the respondents reported losing more than $100,000 to downtime. Of that 60%, 15% lost over $1 million.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains that these solutions reduce data center carbon footprints across the board. This places data migration as the most likely long-term option for data centers in the near future. Is also important to note that the ‘cloud’ is basically someone else’s data center, so once more companies migrate to the cloud, this will force cloud providers to rethink their data center configurations.

Reducing data center carbon footprints with DCIM tools

Although consolidation reduces carbon emissions produced by data centers, it is essential to note that data migration to the cloud will take time. In some cases, migration may not be a viable option—a company may not have the resources to afford the process, for example.

In this case, reducing data center carbon footprints focuses on fighting the heat generated by multitudes of servers, routers, and switches. Analyzing cooling, regulating energy consumption, and optimizing rack layout and configuration are all central challenges. 

  • Free air cooling (using cold external air to cool data centers) effectively reduces data center carbon footprints. Still, it requires building a center in a naturally cold place, which is not always realistic and can be very expensive to move. 
  • Switching liquid cooling systems towards greywater sources (such as seawater) reduces the amount of potable water consumed by data centers. This also requires moving/building centers to places where fresh water is available. 
  • Hot aisle/cold aisle configuration consists of facing server racks with heated exhausts towards air conditioner intake vents and rack fronts facing air conditioner outputs. This distributes heat and energy more effectively, but doesn’t reduce costs as much as other solutions.

All solutions outlined above require a constant stream of incoming data to help engineers evaluate what solutions work for their centers. It is advisable to consider first investing in equipment compatible with environmental sensors, which are instrumental in collecting such data. These tools aid network engineers both in planning their consolidation strategy and Sensors will help to monitor environmental conditions so that they can optimize their systems.

Help the environment, starting with your data center

Although data centers face this problem, there is a large variety of technological solutions. Remote management tools reduce the environmental impact of costly truck rolls, while DCIM tools like rack layouts and free air cooling mitigate the daily effect of data center operations. To be more specific for truck rolls, the environmental impact is fuel consumption and for normal operations, the impact is power consumption.

These tools can serve as a potential short-term fix while engineers look into cloud-based consolidation options like data migration, or even serve in the long term as they strive toward a net-zero center.

However you evaluate your technology strategy, you want to make sure you have the right tools in hand. ZPE’s Nodegrid offers robust remote management tools to reduce your truck rolls, reduce data center carbon footprints, and keep your engineers constantly connected to the status of your center. It similarly offers external sensors which provide you with critical data to adjust or reevaluate your approach, when necessary.

To learn more about how ZPE Nodegrid reduces data center carbon footprints, contact us today!

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