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Balancing Proliferating Data Storage & Energy Needs with Escalating Costs & Ecological Consciousness (Part two of a two-part series)


As digital’s innovative possibilities move from the conceptual to the tangible, enterprises need to balance the art and science of the possible with unintended environmental consequences.

In its seminal writing on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) founder Klaus Schwab observed that the revolution is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. For businesses across industries, this means more technological disruption at a faster pace than ever before.

Breakthroughs in the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) feature high on the WEF’s list of technologies at the heart of the Fourth Revolution. It’s therefore no mystery that data, data, and more data — generated by emerging 5G networks and the multiplicity of devices that hang off of this infrastructure — will fuel this revolution. These petabytes of data will need to be housed somewhere, in an on-premises physical data center or a virtual one somewhere on the cloud.

The criticality of energy-efficient data storage

Apart from making high-end IoT applications more reliable, data generated on 5G networks by the IoT, in turn, will empower AI tools to not only understand pieces of information, but also put that information in context before responding. This opens up endless possibilities for creating AI tools for individuals as well as industries.

In medicine, for example, the ability to harness and understand data from millions of wearable devices could be combined with medical records to understand health outcomes at a more granular level. Augmented and virtual reality (AR & VR) tools could help troubleshoot problems on the factory floor faster; intelligent assistants could transform day-to-day lives of people by giving them context-based inputs while they drive around in AI-powered self-driving electric vehicles. This is merely a glimpse of the innovations that data will help unlock.

What often goes unnoticed is the fact that each of these devices will require energy. Just how much energy will be needed to power the future is difficult to calculate, but it is safe to say that energy demands are unlikely to recede.

Meanwhile, there is growing awareness among people about the effects that climate change is having on the environment. So what is the best path forward? Part 1 in this series looked at the factors behind the data surge and the demands it places on energy resources at data centers. This second and final installment in the series looks at what enterprises can do to reduce energy consumption in data centers.

Striking the balance

When it comes to conserving energy in the data center, moving to renewable sources of energy is a no-brainer. However, it is equally important to improve the energy efficiency of data centers and enterprises. All stakeholders in this scenario must therefore come together to balance energy consumption with the need to ensure that digital innovations can proceeded unfettered, without undermining the environment.

Consider the following:

  • Monitor power quality and demand. To begin with, enterprises can monitor the quality of power supplied to their facilities. Poor quality power would mean factors such as voltage fluctuations and leakages that could damage equipment, including IoT sensors that collect and send data. Power demand monitoring systems provide a deep understanding of their electrical systems. This helps identify opportunities to reduce energy consumption as well as improve the reliability of power systems in the near- and long-term.

  • Use advanced analytics. Recent advances in analytics allow enterprises to use the vast amounts of data at their disposal to generate insights. Using tools such as data center infrastructure management systems (DCIM), enterprises can identify critical patterns, generate real-time alerts, and initiate predictive maintenance to cut energy costs and consumption. DCIM uses model-based simulation to predict answers to “what-if” scenarios, allowing data centers to predict and prepare for all eventualities.

  • Support industry initiatives. The Storage Networking Industry Association’s (SNIA) Green Storage Initiative (GSI) aims to create global standards for monitoring energy efficiency in storage. These standards allow companies of all sizes to select storage products that help them achieve business goals while ensuring that the power consumption is kept to a minimum.

    Similarly, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Smart Grid program works with industry stakeholders to create a framework for smart grid interoperability standards that help improve asset utilization, grid reliability and better use of renewable energy.

    Also, the Open Compute Project started by Facebook in 2011 aims to make computing more energy efficient by creating and sharing “vanity-free” data center hardware designs that minimize energy usage. These initiatives are a step in the right direction and could yield positive results in the near future.

  • Use data center location to cut energy costs. The location of data centers could play a big role in containing overall energy consumption. Data centers in colder regions require less electricity to keep their servers cool, while putting the heat generated to good use. The Swedish data center operator DigiPlex, for example, diverts the heat generated in its Stockholm-based complex to the local district heating system to provide heating to 10,000 homes. Similarly, Facebook’s data center in Luleå, Sweden, uses locally generated hydroelectricity.

    Free-air cooling allows data centers located in relatively warmer regions to use fluctuations in outside temperature to their advantage by blowing the cooler air into the data center, thereby avoiding expensive chillers.

  • Go hyper. Hyperscale data centers, used mostly by major tech giants and cloud service providers, are growing steadily. Apart from using customized server hardware that saves costs, these centers allow other advantages such as the ability to scale as needed, reduced downtime, and easy transition to the cloud for first timers. Small-and-medium-sized companies can use hyperconverged systems that combine storage, computing and networking into a single system, thus enabling greater cost savings and scalability. Major cloud service vendors such as Dell EMC and SimpliVity also provide as-a-service architectures, such as software- and platform-as-a-service, that help reduce data center costs and allow businesses to deliver their services in a more efficient manner.

Figure 1

Looking ahead

Both climate change and digitization will only intensify, deeply impacting the lives of people around the world. While digital innovations represent the next level of technological achievements, environmental consciousness typically ranks high on consumers’ priorities. For businesses, striking a balance between the two is critical; the challenge for many enterprises is to remain mindful of key existential ramifications as they formulate their near- and long-term digital strategy.

Ranga Vangipuram, Senior Director, Technology, TK Srinivas, Director, Business Development, and Preeti Chhaparia, Senior Associate, at Cognizant’s Global Technology Office (GTO), contributed to this article.

For more on digital strategy, visit the Digital Business section of our website or contact us.

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