From hot aisle containment, blanking plates and indirect cooling to rainwater harvesting and renewables sustainable design is a priority, says EMEA CTO Simon Bennet
Data centres contribute about 2 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions, a figure that's rising as more services go online.
There are numerous ways in which large-scale data centre operations, such as cloud service providers and MSPs, are looking to use to flatten this curve, ranging from improved virtualisation, to advanced cooling designs, to the use of sustainable energy sources. Computing spoke to Simon Bennett, EMEA CTO at global cloud managed services provider Rackspace Technology, about his company's efforts to increase the sustainability of its operations and business more broadly.
Rackspace Technology, which has been in business since the start of the internet boom, looks to industry standards including, ISO 14001:2015 and BS OHSAS 18001:2007 to ensure it remains compliant with prevailing environmental and health and safety regulations, and has achieved an EcoVadis Silver Sustainability Rating, but that's just a starting point, according to Bennet.
We're continuously looking to go beyond regulatory compliance, and we work with our suppliers to do the same
"We're continuously looking to do more and to go beyond regulatory compliance, and we work with our suppliers and subcontractors to do the same," he said.
Commitment to environmental and safety standards is documented in the firm's global policy, which is formally sponsored at a senior level, but there are many other initiatives which fall outside of this, with staff being encouraged to volunteer for good causes within working hours being one example.
"We all have a role to play in enabling and supporting a more sustainable future and this is why we have defined roles beyond our colleagues, which include our suppliers and subcontractors working with us too," Bennet said.
Bennet is keen to emphasise that Rackspace Technology does not push its responsibilities down the supply chain. The company's Supplier Code of Conduct sets explicit standards that partners must uphold. In addition, there are ‘full scope' recycling programmes in the UK and Australia, together with a 'circular economics' approach to the hardware lifecycle.
"As the latest generation of hardware ages and becomes unused by a customer, that same hardware is sold to other customers at a lower price until it is fully obsolete for our purposes. At that point, it is sold to a recycler."
Driving data centre efficiency
The environmental economies of scale afforded by huge data centres means that for many organisations the CO2 emissions for which they are responsible can be decreased by using cloud services. Indeed, the government recently urged UK businesses to accelerate the pace of cloud migration to support climate efforts.
But to continue to fulfil this energy efficiency promise, data centre operators must constantly improve their facilities, using more advanced virtualisation to squeeze more out of each individual server, adopting innovations in temperature control and power management, and using renewable sources.
"From a data centre perspective, Rackspace Technology leverages hot aisle containment, blanking plates and indirect cooling via outside air to improve power efficiency," Bennet said. "We have also closed many of our smaller, less efficient sites."
The company's most recent data centres embody the latest efficiency measures including rainwater harvesting rainwater and indirect cooling, he added.
Bennet claims that across its data centre estate Rackspace Technology maintains power usage effectiveness (PUE) levels that are lower than the industry average, although he concedes figures vary from region to region - as do power sources. Globally, approximately 15 per cent of Rackspace Technology's power consumption comes from renewables, but in the UK, this figure is 100 per cent.
The environment can no longer be regarded and an externality, and customers of tech services are becoming more aware of the need for change and of the potential risks to their business if they do not, but some regions, such as EMEA, are further ahead than others.
"Across Europe and Asia, all of our customers now ask about our sustainability initiatives during the pre-sales phase. Once they become customers, we are actively audited against their own sustainability criteria - much like our own Supplier Code of Conduct," Bennet explained.
"One of our priorities later this year will be to publicly state our goals in relation to carbon net neutrality, which is a key step for us in reviewing and, importantly, formalising, the broad range of initiatives that take place at a local level."
Without buy-in from our employees and customers, moving from business-as-usual is a tough challenge
Keeping people onside when driving through the sorts of changes that are required will be crucial, he went on.
"Just as our customers are evolving their thinking over sustainable practices, so are we. Through key practices like our Supplier Code of Conduct, we're keen to go even further. But, we must focus on education and awareness at the same time. Without this, and without buy in from our employees and customers, moving from business-as-usual is a tough challenge.
"Sustainability is a complex challenge and one which needs dedication and investment to ensure it is embedded at the heart of an organisation. To do this, we have assembled a cross-functional team who are directly accountable for mapping out what all of our strategies and milestones look like around the globe that will allow us to build on our existing commitment and go further together."
Computing will run the Tech Impact Conference this year, exploring the relationship between tech and the climate - including case studies about the road to net zero, how to go green in your data centre and supply chain, and how to make small changes with a big impact. For those who are passionate about the planet - and those who are more wary - there has never been a better time to get involved.