Sustainability Blog

Sustainability Blog

Opinions expressed on this blog reflect the writer’s views and not the position of the Capgemini Group

The heated discussion of the Footprint of Data Centers

Category : General



- By Esther van Bergen, Capgemini Netherlands -

The world of (Sustainable) Data Center expertise was in upheaval last week as the NY Times posted an article by James Ganz on September 22nd pointing the finger at data centers as ‘Big Bad Polluting Wolves’.  OK, maybe upheaval is a bit much, but nevertheless there was quite a bit of commotion in reaction to the article and many sites and bloggers took it upon themselves to write an article on the subject themselves.

 … And I guess that includes me now as well. ;-)

The fact that data centers use a huge amount of energy which has been continually rising due to the ‘digital  (r)evolution’ we’re in is nothing new. Somehow this article caught the attention of many though. I’m thinking this has to do with the fact that the article has only spotlighted certain practices that are really no longer acceptable in this day and age, as reactions against some of (for example) Apple’s and Facebook’s practices can testify too, but failed to spotlight the enormous positives steps that have been taken and the technological developments that have enabled them. Quite a few of those ‘reaction’ articles were very happy to point this out and top it off with the (correct) nuance that some of that data has very crucial purposes (lifesaving, scientific and even the expertise of sustainability itself etc.). Perhaps a hidden agenda by Mr. Ganz to ignite the discussion? Probably not, but that was the result nevertheless.  

Another point the author seems to have glossed over is that many data centers are not owned by the company (ies) that provide the B2B or B2C services. Business that provide Data center services cannot really demand their customers to setup their internal architecture with best (environmental) practices, even though personally I sometimes wish they would have the guts to do so.

Most companies and their IT providers, whether provided by an internal department or an external supplier, are unfortunately still caught up in the ‘Offline Anxiety’ mentality of 99.9% uptime SLA’s and the like. Changing this starts with changing the incentives towards the running of any IT environment and the services it provides. Demand Smart & Green Design and ‘a Fit for Purpose Availability’ based on real demand and the technology selections will follow. Appointing clear requirements and responsibilities throughout a company’s organization and up & down their supply chain (thus including all players) is a necessity to phase out these unnecessary bottlenecks.

Unfortunately many of us, as employee or end-user customers, are still completely unaware of the amount of energy needed to provide a particular service – i.e. that click on the button. I guess the bottom line, whether we’re a provider or user of services, is… AWARENESS. Which is coincidentally the first step in the maturity-ladder for Sustainability and allows us to take effective steps to improve. Those providing services should take such issues into consideration when they start designing them. This is directly at the heart of the expertise of Green IT (Greening of IT and Greening by IT) and should quite evidently become part of specific strategic, tactic and operational responsibilities. The good news is that some are moving step by step in this direction, but it’s still too far from being in the overall IT’s DNA.

And so, though there is a growing number that have started climbing up that ladder, what this NY Times article makes clear is that there is still quite a long way to go for a lot of parties involved. Loads of opportunities for improvement, which incidentally also save a lot of money and could make well designed services more valuable in the end.

Reading the article you could nitpick on some of the phrasing or be critical of the things that weren’t mentioned, but all in all, the message of the article was deserving of attention. It has gotten a lot of flack, but the author has also received backing up.  Both of which are, to me, a good thing. As said, it (re)ignites the discussion… which still remains a valid one.


About the author

Esther van Bergen
Esther van Bergen
As IT Sustainability Strategy consultant Esther is currently a coordinator for Capgemini’s Green IT services and a core member of Capgemini’s Global Sustainability Network. She actively pursues cross-expertise collaboration and coordinates the Green IT Community of Practice (a variety of activities). In her roles Esther always considers the detail vs. the bigger picture and enjoys playing ‘devils advocate’ where needed. She believes communication is the make or break factor for success in IT, business and life in general. Her background and experience in Communications, Process Improvement, (IT) Governance and her broad and holistic understanding of sustainability is of added value to anything she undertakes. Esther has a clear vision about the role of sustainability, both now and in the future (such as use of technology in transformation to a Circular Economy and closed-loop processes, conservation efforts, Smart City concepts etc.). She is particularly enjoys working on strategic and innovative ideas that bring together people, process and technology to help realize tangible results for the both the organization, community and the environment (Triple Bottom Line).

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