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8 October, 2020 - 22:04 By Tony Quested

Clean, green and energy mean: Kao Data a sustainability exemplar

Cambridge is committed to leading the way on sustainability and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

So the conundrum remains: How does the UK’s Centre of Science, Technology and Innovation balance its green ideology and goals against the increasing amounts of compute required by its globally significant life sciences, pharmaceutical and AI clusters? 

According to data produced by Nature magazine, the power-hungry ICT ecosystem now accounts for more than two per cent of global carbon emissions, with supporting data centres contributing a further 0.5 per cent to overall carbon emissions. Combined, their carbon footprint is now greater than that created by the global aviation industry pre-COVID-19.

And while we have seen the aviation industry’s carbon emissions plummet dramatically over the last six months of the pandemic, those created by the life sciences sector have increased sharply as the demand for high performance computing (HPC) in its work – drug discovery, genome sequencing, analysing/storing vast data sets – has risen exponentially.

The most worrying predictions forecast that, in little more than 10 years’ time, the ICT sector’s power usage could exceed 20 per cent of the global total, with data centres responsible for using more than a third of that. And in a Smart City like Cambridge, flush with all manner of technology, the figures could be even higher.

Nick Ewing, MD of EfficiencyIT, is a critical infrastructure industry specialist with more than 20 years working in data centre consultancy, design, build and IT services. 

He works predominantly with enterprise organisations dependent on mission-critical infrastructure systems and, in recent years, this specialisation has offered a unique set of skills to research institutions and facilities that rely on HPC environments. 

Today Nick’s clients include the Wellcome Sanger Institute, research universities within the Russell Group, Formula One teams, as well as military and government organisations.

Nick says: “Sustainability, efficiency and the environment are a massive part of our company’s ethos. Our view is that any organisation, irrespective of its size or industry, has a duty and a responsibility to do as much as they can to be as efficient as possible. 

“Whether that’s an organisation like The Wellcome Sanger Institute with its 400-rack on-premise data centre or a huge 40MW co-location data campus like Kao Data, the goal should be to reduce energy consumption whist maintaining reliability, and thereby reduce carbon emissions.

“To achieve this level of efficiency there are two elements to consider. There’s operational efficiency, which is how efficiently you are able to run your business. 

“That is, doing things proactively and having the right monitoring and management systems in place to be efficient at delivering the service to your users. And then there’s the energy efficiency side which is inherently important for sustainability.” 

Within the data centre industry, the PUE (power usage effectiveness) is one of the most-important metrics used to determine the energy efficiency of a data centre.

Nick continues: “The industry strives to operate with as low a PUE as possible – because that reduces carbon emissions and makes the operation of the data centre more economically efficient. 

“According to the Uptime Institute, the average global PUE rating is about 1.59 and in Europe, this sits lower at 1.46. Anything less is of course extremely good and some organisations are achieving ratings of 1.22 and below.”

It is becoming increasingly important to educate organisations about the importance of sustainability – and EfficiencyIT works with businesses and research facilities to reduce their carbon footprint simply by improving how they operate and run their facilities. 

With more efficient cooling architecture, UPS systems and electrical infrastructure, there is a lot that businesses can do to improve energy consumption and help reduce carbon emissions.

Nick says: “The Wellcome Sanger Institute, for example, has made a huge effort to reduce their carbon footprint. While it took Frederick Sanger and his team 13 years to sequence the first human genome, today they are able to sequence in excess of 50 genomes a day using sequencing machines within their scientific research labs, each producing multiple Terabytes of data. 

“By investing in data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) software and more accurately monitoring their critical systems, the Institute is able to both identify and improve areas where efficiency gains can be made. This means they use less energy for cooling and IT power, which results in a reduced carbon footprint.

“Whatever your industry sector, sustainability is a very hot topic. Our partner, Schneider Electric, has made a commitment to achieve net-zero operational emissions by 2030 and to have net-zero emissions throughout their entire supply chain by 2050.

“Microsoft is also aiming to eliminate its dependency on diesel fuel in data centres by 2030, recently testing hydrogen fuel cells as a potential replacement.” 

For a co-location data centre like Kao Data in nearby Harlow, it’s been important to align green credentials alongside the more obvious customer requirements of reliability and good connectivity. 

The hyperscale-inspired campus, with its state-of-the-art architecture, bleeding edge infrastructure and a suite of sustainability and CSR awards, is clearly setting the standards in future energy-efficient data centre design. It is powered by 100 per cent certified renewable energy and proudly boasts an exceptionally low PUE rating of 1.2, even at partial loads.

As the UK’s first 100-per cent free-cooling wholesale co-location campus, Kao Data also uses clever cooling technology instead of refrigerants, eliminating the associated global warming potential.

Paul Finch

Paul Finch, interim CEO and COO at Kao Data, believes that there is a requirement from the data centre industry as a whole to become more sustainable, given how data-dependent our society has become. 

And Kao Data is spearheading the way with a renewable energy strategy which aims to reduce CO2 emissions by +80,000 tons per annum – the equivalent of removing more than 30,000 vehicles from the road.

Paul says: “Sustainability is at the very core of everything we do at Kao Data. We are very conscious that data centres are power-hungry facilities so we strive to be very energy-efficient because, by being more efficient, you need and use less power. 

“The power that we do need, we procure through EDF energy, who certify that the power has been derived from 100 per cent renewable energy sources. 

“And, by being more energy-efficient ourselves, we bolster our customers’ sustainability credentials as well as reduce short-term capital expenditure and longer-term operational expenditure for the benefit of both of us.”

Kao Data, however, has gone way beyond just using 100 per cent certified renewable energy and 100 per cent free-cooling.    

Paul says: “Our real differentiator is the way our infrastructure has been designed, how it is operated and the finer details like having charging points for electric vehicles on campus. 

“We are also exploring the use of vegetable oil fuel substitutes instead of diesel in our backup generators. These are the sort of things that make a data centre’s sustainability credentials more impactful.”

And it goes even broader than that. In June 2019, Kao Data picked up an award for Corporate Social Responsibility at the Datacloud Global Awards 2019, encapsulating all they are doing, not just around energy efficiency and PUE. 

The facility has also been awarded a BREEAM excellent rating. BREEAM is the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for master-planning projects, infrastructure and buildings.

Paul explains: “BREAAM is an extremely broad measure of sustainable performance, and they consider everything from the buildings’ energy efficiency, environmental, ecological and sustainability competency through to transport links, building materials and water usage.

“Being rated BREEAM excellent, as we are, shows our commitment through the design and construction process and onto sustainability. Within the industry, just using renewable energy is not the solution. You also have to make sure your data centre is as efficient as possible.”

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