Data centres are cool, but can they get even cooler?

In the arctic or even under the sea: Here are some ways companies are making their data centres more sustainable.

Data centres are popping up all over the world to facilitate the move towards more digitisation.

Did you know that every time you send an email, visit a website, an app, stream music, or stream your favourite series, you are using a data centre of some kind? And this uses lots of energy – especially keeping them cool.

In fact, the European Commission recently published a new study stating that a whopping 2.7% of the EU’s overall energy consumption came from data centres in 2018 and this is expected to increase to 3.2% by 2030.

With that in mind, here are three cool ways (quite literally) tech companies have been making their operations more sustainable.

1. Under the Sea

Dubbed “Davy Jones’ data centre” by the Economist, Microsoft has deployed some of its hardware at the bottom of the ocean, taking advantage of the cooler temperatures. Data centres must be kept cool, but this process requires a massive amount of energy.

Not only is it colder underwater, but the servers are also out of the reach of human beings, who can cause technical failures by accidentally knocking the sensitive equipment. In addition, with no people around, Microsoft is also able to fill underwater data centres with nitrogen gas to help reduce corrosion.

2. Time to Chill

Now that we know cooling is a big issue, we’re going to take a trip to the Node Pole – the company responsible for Facebook’s first data centre outside the US, in Luleå, northern Sweden.

One big advantage of making a server farm in the arctic North is that it’s very cold up there – around -20°c on average in the winter months. On top of that, Sweden has a very clean energy mix, so the data centres are able to rely 100% on renewable power sources.

When Facebook opened it back in 2013, the company said it was the most energy efficient data centre ever made. Since then, Node Pole has opened more data centres for other top technology companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Northvolt.

3. Future Thinking

Making data centres carbon neutral is no easy task, so we will definitely need the best human minds to fix this problem. Or do we? Well, Google’s DeepMind might disagree.

DeepMind is a machine learning / artificial intelligence firm that Google acquired back in 2014. In 2016, the company announced that it had slashed Google’s energy usage for cooling by an almost-unbelievable 40 percent. This is even more astounding when you consider Google had some of the most advanced server technologies in the world at that point.

This was back in 2016, and since then many more companies have been using the amazing power of artificial intelligence to reduce energy consumption, enhance efficiency and analyse where improvements could be made.

Cool right?

But there’s always room for improvement in sustainability, and regulation is a major factor in bringing those improvements to market - which is why #SustainablePublicAffairs advocates for frontrunners who want to make their sustainable ideas a practical reality.