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How to minimise data centre environmental impact

Technology has taken us far beyond the constraints of traditional scientific approaches and is already tackling humanity’s greatest challenges on a scale we’ve never seen before. AI, machine learning and supercomputing are already being used in some truly remarkable instances, such as helping doctors more accurately detect and treat tumours, and predicting where food shortages will occur.

Solving humanity’s greatest challenges in areas such as climate science, chemistry and biology all have one thing in common: advanced research methods that require an enormous amount of computational power.

And in a world with a growing population and shrinking resources, the race is on to figure out how humans can continue to thrive on this planet without ruining it.

Yes, technology is the driving force for huge positive change in the world, but as an industry, we must keep in mind our own impact and do our bit to save the planet.

The need for green

Think of the world today: it has never been richer, humans have never lived such long, productive and healthy lives, and we have brought technology to the point where machines could soon help us solve many of our remaining problems. However, this can have a high cost on our planet.

In the data centre industry, sustainability must form an integral part of every data centre strategy moving forward. Those who achieve the balance of increased performance and reduced energy consumption, by prioritising a green data strategy that will power the advancements of humanity, will lead the charge.

Climate change has become a prominent challenge for businesses around the world, and it’s great to see many enterprises already including sustainability efforts within their evolving data centre strategies. Especially after EU countries agreed that by the year 2030, renewable energy sources will generate at least 27% of their electricity.

As an industry, we need to look in the mirror to ensure our future thinking projects are not, in fact, creating a new problem for our planet.

Minimising our footprint

At Lenovo, we are already working on some unique projects that focus on sustainability and have seen some great examples of what can be done to minimise our footprint.

For example, when it comes to harnessing renewable energy, Vestas is using game-changing advanced data analytics and simulations to better place wind turbines for optimal energy results. The compute-intensive streaming of data analyses and simulations are transformed into actionable insights to optimise sustainable wind energy.

Elsewhere, Leibniz-Rechenzentrum (LRZ) in Munich is a supercomputer centre working with Lenovo and Intel to reduce its energy consumption. Using Lenovo’s innovative water cooling to pipe unchilled water directly to the CPU, memory and other high power consuming components enabled LRZ to dramatically reduce its energy costs by 40%, without sacrificing compute power. This approach is unique because the water used for cooling did not require chillers, previously a staple of water cooling, but instead used a controlled loop of unchilled water, up to 45°C.

Developments on water cooling continue at Lenovo. Most recently, Lenovo announced Neptune – a holistic, three-pronged approach to liquid cooling technologies. With Neptune technology, supercomputers utilise warm (50°C) water instead of air for cooling. Because water conducts heat more efficiently than air, the system operates at lower temperatures compared to standard air-based systems without fans or water chillers — yielding huge energy savings.

Another energy-saving example, without sacrificing power, is SciNet’s Niagara supercomputer. SciNet works with Lenovo to support the advancement of areas such as astrophysics, biomedicine and climate science, and using Lenovo’s ThinkSystem supercomputer is able to deliver 10 times more performance than its previous version. More importantly, the new supercomputer uses only two-thirds of the energy, while scientists are using the Niagara supercomputer to explore alternative fuels to reduce the pollution caused by combustion and make energy production more efficient.

Using Lenovo’s ThinkSystem nodes, Barcelona Supercomputing Centre has also achieved the balance of a supercomputer that is more energy efficient yet ten times more powerful than its predecessor. This power enables scientists to carry out some revolutionary projects while maintaining a green approach.
 
Taking accountability

There is certainly a need to deliver life-changing technology projects, and humankind can’t progress without it. However, these examples highlight how we can respond to these challenges without draining the planet’s resources.

As Winston Churchill once said: “The price of greatness is responsibility.” Sustainability needs to be at the forefront of our industry. As innovators and leaders, we have a duty to make changes to meet the challenges head-on and deliver high performance while requiring a reduced energy footprint.

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