The surge in data consumption has given a significant impetus to the data centre market. At the same time, it has significantly increased the industry’s power consumption and carbon footprint. According to a recent report by Valuates, the global data centre power market is projected to grow from $15 billion in 2020 to $21.5 billion by 2026. Thus, efficient power management of these centres has become essential. In view of this, data centre operators are now moving towards more energy efficient practices and devising ways to reduce their carbon footprint.
One of the data centre power management techniques is dynamic voltage and frequency scaling (DVFS). Through this technique, power consumption can be reduced by lowering the supply voltage. Under DVFS, power saving is achieved by clocking the frequency of a processor to dynamically adjust for enabling a corresponding reduction in the supply voltage. The DVFS technique uses the critical operating point for adjusting voltage and frequency scaling. Further, with this technique, data centre operators can reduce or increase both voltage and frequency simultaneously. This helps them in preventing any timing violations in the process.
Virtualisation of servers and storage
The virtualisation of data centres involves replacement of physical servers with virtualisation technologies. This also includes software technologies such as software-defined networking (SDN), network function virtualisation (NFV) technologies and cloud computing. The virtualisation of servers and storage leads to a reduction in the energy requirements of data centres, thus helping in power savings. According to industry reports, virtualisation in data centres can increase server use from 10-20 per cent to at least 50-60 per cent. Besides, virtualisation can significantly improve hardware utilisation. This enables a reduction in power-consuming servers and storage devices.
Plugging into the smart grid
Smart grids can help in creating a distributed and automated power delivery network by allowing two-way energy and information flows. By bringing these grids to use, data centre players can enable a deep integration of distributed power generation and renewable energy.
In addition, smart grids can address the problems of renewable energy fluctuations with the help of integrated monitoring and control. This helps in maintaining a consistent power flow over the electrical grid. Besides, data centre operators are installing renewable power generators to provide occasional power supply and draw clean power from the grid.
Liquid cooling technologies
The cooling segment of the data centre market is also witnessing rapid growth. As such, the power and cooling requirements account for a huge portion of capex in Indian data centres due to the unexpected power cuts or technical failures in various components. As per industry reports, the data centre cooling market is expected to have a 3 per cent combined annual growth rate between 2020 and 2025. Further, as organisations are switching to high density servers, cooling and temperature control have become vital in data centre operations. Thus, modern data centres are using various cooling technologies for efficient operations. Some of these are as follows:
- Liquid cooling: Data centres are using liquid to cool the server components more efficiently. Liquid cooling technology handles higher heat load, and also ensures less noise and a minimal cost for operations and maintenance. Further, it enables heat recovery and reuse, resulting in higher energy efficiency and lower environmental impact. For instance, Google introduced its liquid cooling technology, TPU 3.0 processors, which are deployed in many of its data centre locations. Further, data centres are using an immersion system, which submerges hardware in non-conductive, non-flammable dielectric fluid.
- Calibrated vectored cooling (CVC): This cooling technology is designed specifically for high density servers. With the help of CVC, data centres can optimise the airflow through the equipment, and allow the cooling system to manage the heat more effectively.
- Rack/Row-based technique: This method targets specific rows for cooling on the basis of their requirement. This technique is becoming particularly useful as air paths are getting smaller. The rack/row-based technique provides advantages such as high speed, flexibility and density, along with low cost. The electricity costs involved in a row-based technique are generally lower than those of room-based practice.
- Computer room air handler (CRAH): Under this technique, chilled water flows through a cooling coil inside the data centre unit and uses modulating fans to draw air from outside the facility. CRAH units are more efficient in locations with colder annual temperatures.
- Direct-to-chip cooling: One of the most effective forms of the liquid cooling method is direct-to-chip cooling, wherein coolants are directly delivered to a cold plate for the motherboard’s processors. Further, the heat extracted is fed into a chilled-water loop and carried away to the facility’s chiller plant.
Switch to SSDs
In a bid to efficiently manage the power, organisations are replacing hard disks with solid-state drives (SSDs) wherever possible. These drives not only deliver a higher IOPS, but also consume far less power than hard disks. In addition, as SSDs have no moving parts, they produce significantly less heat than hard disks. For instance, Samsung’s enterprise SSDs consume 1.25 watts of power in active mode and 0.3 watts in idle mode. This is roughly one-fourth of the power consumed by a 15,000 rpm SAS HDD.
As data centres’ power requirement is expected to increase manyfold in the near future, the creation of sustainable and green data centres has become crucial. As per industry estimates, data centres globally consume about 3 per cent of the global electric supply and account for about 2 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Further, IDC predicts that global data will grow to 175 zettabytes by 2025, and the amount of energy used by data centres will continue to double every four years. This shows that data centres will have the fastest growing carbon footprint in the IT sector. To this end, the industry has started taking initiatives to make data centres energy efficient and environmentally friendly. The industry expects the green data centre market to grow from $43.24 billion in 2018 to $147.88 billion by 2024.
A green data centre deploys environment-friendly solutions in its infrastructure. Like any other data centre, it stores, manages and disseminates data, and while doing so, it emits a lower carbon footprint. Another aspect of green data centres is that by moving to a green multitenant data centre, it can provide sustainability to players and consumers. It can continuously monitor all the applications to ensure the efficient use of power. Further, it can transfer energy across various applications, depending on the requirements. It can also significantly reduce the capital expenditure of an organisation. It also addresses the problem of dead server space prevalent in traditional data centres.
In April 2021, as part of its mission to rapidly grow its green energy footprint, Bharti Airtel commissioned a 14 MWp captive solar power plant to meet the energy requirements of its core and edge data centres in Uttar Pradesh. The facility in Tilhar (Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh) is the first of the two solar plants being set up by Airtel in partnership with AMP Energy. The second plant at Begampur, is expected to go live in the next quarter. This will provide a major boost to Airtel’s initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint. Airtel had acquired a 26 per cent equity stake in AMP Solar Evolution as part of its commitment to green energy-based solutions.
Meanwhile, in March 2021, ST Telemedia Global Data Centres’ India unit announced a partnership with Avaada Energy to procure renewable energy. According to STT GDC, around 34 per cent of the power for all of its Indian facilities comes from renewable sources and the addition of the Avaada Energy partnership will see the company achieve a carbon reduction of 456,500 tonnes by 2025.
Industry initiatives and opportunities
A plethora of opportunities are emerging in the data centre space for vendors and stakeholders. One of the key emerging avenues of growth is the storage capacity domain. This growth is expected to be driven primarily by the surge in demand for IaaS, SaaS and PaaS among organisations, and the increased use of internet smart devices and social media platforms.
Further, favourable government regulations and the emergence of alternative sources of power and cooling will provide huge opportunities for vendors operating in the data centre segment as green data centres emerge as a key focus area.