Data centre companies have been warned about the need to understand the environmental consequences of their infrastructure and take steps to minimise its impact.

While adopting cloud has resulted in a whole range of efficiencies – including energy consumption – data storage is rapidly rising in the league tables as a major source of carbon, and according to UK cloud provider Memset.

Emma Fryer, Associate Director at techUK told Data Economy that: “Organisations do need to be conscious of where and how their digital data is stored, managed processed, transmitted and received. 

“The worst possible place is on-premises, in small legacy data centres, server rooms and cupboards, which are notoriously inefficient, where operations are not treated as business units, where there is no accountability, no incentives for energy stewardship and no funding for improvements. 

“As recently as 2018 the Eureka Project reported on 350 (predominantly small) public sector data centres across Europe and found average PUE to be around 4, utilisation around 20%.  

“Moreover, 40% of servers were over five years old and while providing only 7% of the compute, consumed 66% of the energy.”

She added that it is tempting to take aim at the usual targets: large, energy-intensive commercial operators who collectively consume 2.89TWh of electricity a year, about 0.8% of our national electricity consumption

“In reality, outsourcing distributed IT to third-party providers, where energy use is transparent, accountable and audited reduces consumption by at least two-third, and large cloud providers’ state reduction figures as high as 98%,” she added.  

“Over 75% of the energy purchased by UK operators is certified 100% renewable, and the larger providers are adopting power purchase agreements to fund additional renewable supply.

“We accept that ICT has an important role to play in delivering efficiency through improved productivity and dematerialisation.


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“Data centres consolidate IT functions into purpose-built facilities and by doing so they improve the efficiency and reliability of that ICT.  

“As core infrastructure, therefore, data centres help to ensure that the ICT deployed to deliver efficiency gains throughout the wider economy is itself efficient.”

As the group of UK demonstrators called Extinction Rebellion strike in London today, Memset predicts that it is only a matter of time until the environmental campaigners turn their attention to cloud storage infrastructure.

“Storing and using data consumes a lot of energy, and many businesses have been able to remove this energy consumption from their sustainability books by using outsourced cloud providers,” said Annalisa O’Rourke, Chief Operations Officer at Memset.

“But shifting the problem to a supplier is not taking responsibility. Organisations need to not only develop sustainable policies for themselves, but to also include their whole network of suppliers in their strategies.”

Cloud storage can be a much more sustainable approach than traditional on-premises storage, according to the company.

“Regardless of what you think about the methods and rhetoric of extinction rebellion, the direction of climate change and the need for more sustainable processes is clear,” added O’Rourke.

“Businesses have a duty to consider cloud suppliers for their commitment to environmental sustainability.

“The danger is that by failing to do so, they will make themselves a target for campaigners, risk reputational damage, and make their other CSR efforts seem just cosmetic.”

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