Beyond energy usage and emissions, another factor in data center sustainability is what kind of energy is being used. Some countries and states have very green energy, (e.g., geothermal in Scandinavia and hydropower in Washington state). Other areas, such as Poland and many southern U.S. states, have dirtier energy from sources like coal, oil and gas. Dirtier energy sources have a greater environmental impact and should be accounted for accordingly in ESG measurements.
“I've seen stats that say tech industry data centers contribute from 2% to 4% of carbon emissions globally and that this figure could grow to 10% by 2030,” said Dalgas, pointing to a Tech Monitor article titled “The Tech Industry’s Progress on Carbon Emissions has Been Mixed.” The IEA reports that data centers overall accounted for 1% of carbon emissions.
He said organizations are cutting CO2 emissions by using software-defined data centers. Hyperconverged infrastructure, which was pioneered by Nutanix, uses virtualization software and integrated components to reduce the hardware footprint and associated power and cooling required for traditional data centers.
“It can make data centers up to 35% more energy-efficient than traditional three-tier architecture,” he said, citing the 2021 Nutanix ESG report.
Sustainability Requirements As Mandates, Not Guidelines
Measuring energy usage and other environmental impacts in IT and elsewhere is becoming a mandate, not a choice.
“New sustainability requirements will be mandated over the next few years,” said Harmail Chatha, senior director of global cloud operations at Nutanix.
“Our customer proposals increasingly have a section on sustainability. They want to know about our sustainability profile, what data center providers we’re working with and their PUE [power usage effectiveness] scores. They want to know how we are deploying equipment and how we can help them demonstrate environmental sustainability by using hyperconverged infrastructure and multicloud management.”
Startups have emerged to help businesses go from tracking resource usage with spreadsheets to monitoring a broad array of metrics in support of their sustainability efforts. Plan A, for one, provides software that enables businesses to measure, report on and reduce their emissions and improve ESG performance. nZero offers a carbon management platform that operationalizes energy, financial and greenhouse gas emissions data. Carbon Ledger helps compile emissions data from credit card transactions.
There are three energy categories these sustainability management companies report on: emissions from energy sourced directly from the electrical grid for purposes such as powering offices and facilities; indirect power usage in data centers like electrical, steam, heating and cooling; and downstream energy usage, including data on emissions and pollution from a company's ecosystem of partners, suppliers, employees, and company assets.