As the world becomes more automated, the role of data centers grows more critical. Our hybrid IT infrastructure is ripe for innovation, which is fortunate because the demands are great and so are the challenges. As an industry, we must meet calls for accelerated capacity across the globe while improving data center sustainability and ushering in a new age of sustainability reporting.
Let’s take a moment to look at some of the trends that industry leaders are following to be prepared and stay on top of the competition.
Adopt sustainability metrics for consistent and organized reporting
Today, there are a plethora of metrics from which to choose, but the industry lacks a comprehensive framework. With data center operators each reporting their own preferred measurements using their own methodology, it’s recognized that data center sustainability must instead be measured in a consistent and organized way.
IT and power consumption (82%) and power usage effectiveness, or PUE, (70%) remain the top sustainability metrics tracked across the industry, according to the results of the Uptime Institute Annual Data Center Survey 2021. Although PUE has traditionally been an accepted metric, we need metrics for the other categories of environmental sustainability — greenhouse gas emissions, water use, waste and biodiversity.
One idea is that data center sustainability metrics could leverage business processes similar to GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) balance sheets and income statements, which provide a ledger in which every company could state their results using established rules and units of measurement. This change could ensure comprehensive reporting that’s universally understood. It also can provide a baseline to measure success, making it possible to compare sustainability results with other companies.
Focus on digital design tools for faster development and increased sustainability
The industry is struggling to build data centers fast enough, so the expectation is that there will be greater innovation in the digitization of the data center design and build process as we attempt to meet demands for new capacity. Fortunately, new software tools are emerging that speed data center design and construction.
Traditional computer-aided design (CAD) software has long allowed designers to develop the layout of a facility, but today’s data-driven software allows detailed modeling of the powertrain. For example, digital twin software can be used by designers to model the electrical powertrain for availability, efficiency and sustainability. This has proved beneficial for the design phase, and now we see model-based software emerging to digitize the construction phase. This model-based construction phase software enables the modeling of costing, timing and sustainability. Designers and contractors can choose or substitute components and subsystems based on their environmental impact or energy efficiency, evaluating the effects on technical performance, pricing or scheduling via digital twins before committing to physical builds.
Look to the prospect of 6G
Although high band 5G is beginning to pop up in open spaces with few physical barriers such as stadiums, airports and shipyards, the millimeter wave 5G variant has been slow to materialize in both the business and consumer realms (slow low band 5G is being deployed). There’s excitement around the prospect of 6G networks, which could offer life- and experience-changing functionality. 6G operates at THz frequencies, has access speeds of 1TB per second and can deliver near “air latency.” High band 5G hits speeds around 500MB per second, with air latency aimed at eight to 12 milliseconds.
Potential use cases for 6G include technology embedded in human bodies for controlling artificial limbs (prosthetics) through wireless brain-computer interactions (BCI), which is an incredible prospect! In the 6G world, people could interact with their environment and other people using devices that could be held, worn or implanted. One might even envision a future in which there’s no need to carry a phone, but we’re some time away from that, yet. Network architecture may change with 6G, which may mean the computing capacity will need to grow and placement at the edge will become even more important.
Enhance edge sustainability
The ability to reduce, reuse and recycle technologies deployed at the edge will be an important consideration in 2022 and beyond as the adoption of edge computing grows. Edge deployments may be smaller than traditional data centers, but the scale and volume at which edge infrastructure is likely to be deployed demands its environmental impact be minimized. Building a sustainable edge at scale requires greater attention be paid when selecting components and during the design and deployment stages, as well as the use of comprehensive management systems to ensure efficient operation.
Cooling will remain an essential part of the drive for efficiency, but the challenges presented by edge deployments — especially those in unmanned environments — will require innovative approaches in terms of technology and topology. Inevitably, with sealed and largely unmanned edge data centers, liquid cooling will be required, although it’s not yet clear what sort of topology will be best suited. I believe we may see a new liquid-cooled architecture emerge for the edge at scale, but whether that involves direct-to-chip liquid cooling or chassis-based immersive cooling is yet to be known.
It’s no secret that data center capacity needs to grow to support the new automated and digital world enabled by high-capacity networking technologies, 4/5/6G and Wi-Fi 6 moving the data. The key is to grow this capacity in a responsible way by focusing on sustainable (i.e., efficient, circular and managed) solutions at the edge, digitizing the design and build phases of larger data centers and implementing comprehensive metrics for sustainability.
Original article can be found here Forbes Tech Council