Green Data Centers, Indispensable for a Sustainable Digital World

The Internet is referred to as a virtual world. However, it is indeed physical and real, as can be seen from the material elements on which it is based. Computers, telephones, internet boxes are the first elements that come to mind when we try to materialize the internet. One of the great forgotten and not the least is the data center. A data center is a storage and processing center for computer data. Highly in demand but very energy consuming, data centers will gradually become green data centers. The good news is that several major digital players have decided to get down to business…

Data center pollution, a growing scourge

There are 180 “data centers” in France and more than 4081 located in 118 countries. A number that will increase by 9% per year between now and 2020. And for good reason, they are the heart of Internet data storage. Mails, tweet, Facebook posts, shared images and all other elements circulating on networks and internet servers constitute this data. With the advent of the Cloud, data centers have never been so popular.

In France, 8% of electricity consumption is attributable to data centers. In 2016, data centers around the world consumed 416 TWH (terawatt-hour of electricity). By way of comparison, France consumed a total of 473 TWH over the same period. As soon as they are manufactured, they require rare metals, then they need a major cooling system, not to mention a continuous and intense supply of electricity. Essential, data centers are no less polluting, and if we don’t act now, they could well become unstoppable polluters.

On the way to green data centers

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The environment is a common, growing and above all urgent concern. The large companies that need and will need data centers even more need to react as quickly as possible. Fortunately, several of them have decided to take an essential environmental turn:

Google and Apple

The two mastodons that make up half of the GAFA family are among the pioneers of green data centers. The motivation here is twofold, between saving money in the face of rising electricity prices and the need to meet ecological expectations. How do they do it? By setting up their own data centers in Nordic countries! Indeed, the low temperatures allow a reduced use of air conditioning systems, the need for cooling being the most polluting factor in data centers. To reduce electricity costs, data centers are also strategically located near power plants to reduce supply costs.

Also read : Facebook takes a Big Step for the Planet and Tackles Digital Pollution

Orange and free cooling

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Again, we are talking about using cold climates to reduce environmental costs. This time the savings are made outside the water. Free cooling consists in taking advantage of the outside air to cool the servers. This is how Orange designed its green data center in Val de Reuil, Normandy near Rouen to reduce its carbon footprint.

Microsoft and its hybrid data center

S. Eklund/Red Box Pictures/Natick/Naval Group

Founded in 1975 by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Microsoft has established itself as the benchmark for operating systems, with nearly 90% of the world’s computers using it. A success that makes Microsoft’s ecological awareness indispensable. The American giant has therefore decided to combine the benefits of underwater immersion of data centers with other innovative techniques concentrated in a data center that bears a name: the Natick. 

Also read : How will Microsoft compensate for the Digital Pollution it has emitted since its creation?

F. Beterlin/Naval Group

Inside the vessel, the atmosphere consists of pure nitrogen, without oxygen or moisture, to avoid corrosion.

Ben Cutler, the engineer in charge of the Natick project, within the Special Projects division of Microsoft Research

In addition, the pumped seawater supplies the cooling circuit that keeps the servers hosted by the data center at a temperature of less than 14°C compared to 15 to 35°C for a data center on land. Finally, lower electricity consumption means longer server life. A true technological feat, this green data center also takes 3 months to install compared to 1.5 to 2 years for a traditional data center. Located in the north of Scotland, the Natick is definitely an inspiration to be followed closely.

Recovering heat emitted by data centers

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When you can’t afford to export data centers, they remain solutions to compensate for your energy consumption and the pollution it generates. It is in this perspective that in May 2017 was born the project of the data center glued to the swimming pool of Buttes aux Cailles. To heat the pool, engineers have devised an intelligent “digital heating” system. Like a boiler, the data center, or rather the heat emitted by the servers it hosts, makes it possible to maintain the indoor and outdoor pools at 27°C all year round! An estimated saving of more than 45 tons of CO2 per year.

We can also reduce data center pollution on our scale

All your online activity has an ecological impact. Storing those thousands of emails, you may have in your inboxes consumes energy. So, if you don’t need them, get rid of them!

Gary Cook, Digital Technology Specialist, Greenpeace, 2016

Facebook, Google and Apple have committed to achieving 100% renewable energy for running their servers by 2013. Especially with green data centers such as those presented in this article. An ambition that was welcomed by Greenpeace and has since been followed by other digital players. But we too have a role to play. Indeed, we are the first providers of data on the Internet, data that requires storage in data centers. So, advocating digital sobriety is essential if we want to have a common positive impact by making data centers breathe. Exporting your holiday photos and videos to a USB key, deleting old Facebook posts and tweets or cleaning your mailbox are relevant levers to activate. And if you are looking for help with email cleaning, don’t hesitate to download the free application or use the web version of Cleanfox. This is the choice that nearly 3 million Internet users have made. A decision that pays off since, on average, 6 kg of CO2 are saved per year by a Cleanfox user.

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