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Data Center Sustainability: 2021 Lessons Confirmed and 2022 Trends Predicted

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) themes became more prevalent in 2021 and will continue to do so in 2022. In light of the pandemic, climate concerns and digital transformation, many enterprises are setting ambitious sustainability goals. According to one industry analyst, “Corporate sustainability isn’t just here to stay – it is becoming a business imperative for organizations around the world.”¹

Year-end is a good time to reflect on what we accomplished and what we learned (or confirmed) and to make a few predictions for the new year.

Data Center Sustainability Progress

Let’s look at three areas that CoreSite focused on during 2021.

Efficiency improvement
We completed several major projects. In our Boston facility, we fully replaced and upgraded our cooling system. The new chiller plant consists of three chillers with magnetically levitated centrifugal compressors.  Each lineup functions independently and includes a series-integrated plate heat exchanger for partial to full economization. This more-efficient cooling system reduces the site PUE by decreasing the building energy consumed relative to customers’ IT power use. This upgrade will deliver annual savings of more than 7 million kilowatt-hours.

As a multitenant colocation provider, we deliver cooling based on the varying power densities customers need.  Whether our customers have low or high compute environments (or somewhere in between), the new plant allows us to design specific systems to meet each of our customer’s unique requirements. For example, the NYU spotlight highlights some fascinating aspects of water cooling.

Additionally, upgraded mechanical systems improve our ability to tune the data center environment, similar to tuning a car engine to make it run more efficiently. We looked at air flow, for example, and how it moves around a facility and how free cooling by using the outside air can help more efficiently cool facilities. In Boston and other campuses, we are able to use outside air for free cooling up to 60% of the time.

What is one of the outcomes of the efficiency improvement work? Confirmation that we can accommodate accelerating customer deployment schedules and tech refreshes, particularly related to increasingly higher densities in smaller footprints.

Reduced carbon emissions
Our primary strategy to reduce carbon emissions is improving energy efficiency. As outlined above, CoreSite has improved our facilities efficiency, in turn reducing total energy consumption and carbon emissions. We also leverage our energy procurement, which seeks to continually improve our energy supply mix through cost-neutral or better, low-emission, carbon-free and renewable energy options.  In 2021, we expect to end the year and begin 2022 with high single-digit percentage improvements. Notably, in VA1 and VA2, CoreSite sources energy from third parties instead of local utility companies. Our third-party suppliers deliver cleaner, carbon-free energy from hydropower.

As regulations evolve to address climate concerns, they require cleaner energy. There are some federal mandates, but states are driving local regulatory changes aimed at achieving their carbon-neutral or renewable energy goals. Additionally, utilities and suppliers have set cleaner energy goals and are progressing on their paths to achieve them. For example, our Virginia supplier set a goal to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045. By choosing to source our load in the open market and working with third party suppliers, we confirmed that CoreSite can help achieve this carbon-free goal earlier, at a reduced or neutral total cost of ownership to CoreSite and our customers.

Helping customers meet their individual sustainability requirements.
Energy sustainability goals vary widely from customer-to-customer.  Because a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t apply, we collaborate with customers individually, tailoring a sustainability solution that meets their specific requirements.

Given the variability across customers, a lot of discussion focuses on setting realistic, achievable goals that balance environmental impact, cost and brand consideration. A lesson confirmed; that an informational, educational, and partnership approach is an effective approach.

Sustainability Trends

Experience, along with research, helps us figure out where to invest more time and resources in the future. We’re keeping an eye on three trends as we head into 2022:

Emerging technologies being adopted by utilities, grid operators and data centers will continue to improve low carbon, carbon free, and renewable options. For example, advances in battery storage can make intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and solar energy more viable by smoothing out the generation peaks and troughs of these sources. Batteries can also make the grid more efficient by allowing large energy consumers, like data centers, to reduce peak loads. That reduction in peak load helps power generators avoid dirtier energy during the typical daily curve of utility consumption. Limited testing is underway, so we predict some level of battery storage will be available in 2022.
Increasing value of the data center campus and ecosystem. From CoreSite’s standpoint, we plan to release new products and expand partnerships to further enable enterprise cloud applications. From a sustainability perspective, customers will move more workloads from on-premises to purpose-built data center campuses. Forty-nine percent of enterprises already include colocation in their hybrid IT mix.² 

Trading-in “less efficient” (on-premises) for “more efficient” (purpose-built) colocation is something enterprises can capitalize on immediately. No waiting for or investing in next-generation technology that’s already available through a colocation provider. IT application environments associated with enterprise and cloud are only going to accelerate, so why not capture energy improvements sooner rather than later? Some CoreSite customers have reduced their energy costs by 50%, and we expect significant savings to continue.

Continuing transparency related to energy consumption and sustainability. Approximately 20% of customers already include energy sustainability requirements in their RFPs. We expect this percentage to increase in 2022. In anticipation, CoreSite is enhancing our customer portal with a self-service, interactive application that provides real-time visibility into sustainability metrics, including carbon footprint, power usage, environmental conditions, performance and historical trending. Essentially, customers will be able to monitor energy and sustainability metrics in real time. Each customer will have visibility into their specific deployments, which allows them to accurately track and report against their ESG goals.


Sustainability Is a Journey, Not a Destination

Forbes describes three guiding principles for enterprises on their journey toward sustainability: bold leadership, sustainable execution and aligned stakeholders.³ These principles echo CoreSite’s approach to sustainability and help shape the three pillars of our practices:

  • Energy-efficient data centers with high uptime and high-performance connectivity to enable customers to significantly reduce their overall data center footprint and dramatically lower their costs and energy consumption.
  • A culture of responsibility, transparency, innovation and operational excellence in which all CoreSite colleagues can experience success and career growth.
  • Communities of customers who work seamlessly with each other (via a national ecosystem) to be more effective, efficient and successful in creating value for their customers in a sustainable manner.⁴

Of all the things we confirmed in 2021, perhaps the most important takeaway is that sustainability is a long-term mindset, a frame of reference that drives improvement and innovation, which is achieved through consistent, collaborative, cross-functional, investment and effort over time – a sound theme to carry into 2022. For more information, read our Sustainability Report.

The CoreSite Team
Combining expertise, research and thought leadership to inform and advance hybrid IT.