ESG ambitions of data centres

AI and smart automation to drive data centre sustainability ambitions

June 29, 2022

With the proliferation of mobile phones and the internet, the need for data centres supporting the online expanse has grown exponentially. The number of data centres in the world has increased, and the amount of energy these data centres use continues to double every four years. This means data centres have the fastest-growing carbon footprint in any area within the Information Technology (IT) sector, collectively accounting for 3-4% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally. This has put a huge spotlight on the immediately actionable aspect of data centre sustainability, relating to energy and water efficiency initiatives and the use of renewables.

JLL, in collaboration with IDC, interviewed 505 data centre managers (70% run by enterprises and 30% by service providers) across 13 markets in Asia to get a view of their future direction in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategies.

1. Becoming more sustainable and socially responsible ranks as the top priority.

JLL research and analysis show that “becoming more sustainable and socially responsible” is the topmost priority for data centres in the next two years, followed by the priorities historically targeted to keep data centres productive and efficient. Reducing power consumption, minimising waste, and relying more on renewable energy sources are a few key initiatives enterprises plan to adopt for their data centres to progress on their green journey. 

2. A little more than one-quarter of data centres have visibility of their energy utilisation to drive transformational business value.

There is a unanimous agreement that energy efficiency is crucial for data centres and profoundly impacts business operations and decision making. However, only 27% of the data centre managers interviewed agreed to have visibility of energy usage and cost data to drive a correlation between spending and business performance. They do not view data centres as only physical facilities but as strategic assets that help businesses flourish while moving the needle on ESG ambitions by rigorously chasing energy efficiency and clean energy sourcing. Another 58% of data centre managers mentioned that they could only track energy efficiency in a standalone manner but not link it back to value created for the business.

3. One in two data centres includes employee Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) metrics as part of their corporate sustainability reporting.

There is widespread acknowledgement in the industry about a diversity gap and lack of women representation. This acknowledgement is an essential first step that encourages decision-makers to make firm D&I commitments and follow them through. JLL analysis highlights that one in every two data centre operators agrees to have included D&I metrics as part of their corporate sustainability reporting. This means tracking, monitoring, and reporting this metric to internal and external stakeholders, thus taking an important step to up the game on data centres' ESG commitments.

4. One in two data centres plans to implement AI-powered cooling technology by 2023.

Previously, enterprise data centres were plagued with several issues such as network, security, and capacity that resulted in operational downtime. Operational processes were too manual, labour intensive, and prone to error. Large colocation and hyperscale data centre operators have sought to alleviate these problems by introducing automation, software-based management, and decision-making supported by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

This maturation of the underlying data centre architectures means that sophisticated software technologies such as AI and ML can be utilised to their maximum effect. At least 50% of data centre managers interviewed admit that they plan to use cooling-control designs that are AI-assisted and automated and implement this technology in their data centres by 2023. The best-in-class example of this is Google’s fully automated version of AI-controlled cooling technology that can save up to 40% off a facility cooling system’s total energy use.