In ESG terms, that means: when cutting data center carbon footprints, remember what human mistakes led to the climate change crisis …

According to research, enterprises migrating to cloud computing tend to reduce their carbon footprint by up to 84% on average, and that about 85% of organizations will by 2025 have embraced cloud-native platforms.

Transitioning to the cloud computing will enable firms to attain efficiencies that benefit the bottom line while reducing carbon footprints and delivering on ESG and sustainability mandates. 

However, since cloud computing technology itself is subject to ESG constraints, cloud infrastructure also has to be much more sustainable. Therefore, firms turning to cloud computing will also need to understand the key issues that should be addressed during sustainability planning, and re-examine all aspects of technology deployment to add to sustainability initiatives.  

Data centers taking the heat in SEA 

Derek Wang, General Manager, Alibaba Cloud Singapore

As a critical component of the IT infrastructure that underpins the digital economy, it is imperative that data centers are eco-friendly. In South-east Asia, cooling is the most significant barrier to maintaining sustainable data centers, often taking up 35% to 40% of the total energy consumed.

Currently, over 95% of data centers in the region use air-based cooling. Fortunately, the latest cloud computing hardware and software technologies are becoming more efficient. For example, powerful server processors can now deliver better performance while achieving a 50% increase in energy efficiency ratios. Servers today are also designed to support cloud-native infrastructures more efficiently, and software-based computer applications do not even need physical servers. 

Furthermore, intelligent cloud operating systems are now capable of integrating tens of thousands of servers around the world into one seamless supercomputer, with real-time peak processing capacities of 3.63TB per second. This can improve server resource utilization by 10% to 40%, resulting in significant reductions in costs. As a result, green data centers need not present any performance, reliability or security comprises when operating far more efficiently.

Also, Tier 1 data center operators in countries such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea are specifying higher power-rated generators to help them achieve operational efficiencies and lower costs. New data centers must have capacities of between 10MW to 30MW and a power usage effectiveness of 1.3. In addition, incumbents to the industry must demonstrate innovation and sustainability solutions.

Other measures to make the critical backbone of digital economies more sustainable include:

  • recycling the waste heat generated by servers: some green data centers are leading the way on this front via advances in water-cooling technology. This can deliver costless cooling for 90% of a data center’s operating time, driving down energy consumption by more than 80% compared to that of mechanical cooling
  • “soaking server” cooling technology where servers are immersed in an insulating coolant. The heat generated is directly absorbed by the circulating liquid. This non-mechanical cooling measure can lead to energy savings of over 70% compared to traditional cooling methods.
  • advances in heat pump technology: in colder climates, advanced heat redistribution can be used to supplement municipal heating pipeline networks that feed industries and domestic users.
  • AI and data analysis technologies and tools that can enable firms to monitor, manage, and predict the carbon footprint profiles of business operations and guide sustainability changes. 
  • Emerging disruptive technologies and digital transformation innovations that can address large-scale challenges or create new opportunities in energy conversion, production and storage.

It is important to focus on the intersection of innovative digital transformation (DX) and energy transition. DX can help drive the shift to new energy solutions—from key supplementary technologies to renewable energies, carbon monitoring, recording and verification systems, and smart and green building technologies, etc.

Also, we must address sustainability challenges across the supply chain with, for example, environment-friendly packaging and sustainable aviation technologies, while paying close attention to carbon removal and capture technologies. These conservation aspects will supplement efforts in recycling plastics and trapping carbon emissions at the source.

In totality, all the above measures should be helpful in addressing today’s urgent sustainability and ESG challenges.