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Dropbox drops the fossil fuels

Image: Adobe Stock / Connect world

Last year, Dropbox announced its commitment to fighting to good fight and reducing its carbon footprint, with this sustainability goal now set to become a reality thanks to the company’s data centres, as it ditches the fossil fuels in favour of 100% renewable energy.

Dropbox hopes to reach its sustainability goals by 2030, with a more detailed plan on what it hopes to achieve including:

  • Carbon neutrality for scope 1, scope 2, and scope 3 business travel emissions.
  • Source 100% renewable energy for our operations, including our data centres.
  • Support organisations working for climate action.
  • Mobilise employees to use volunteer time off for environmental causes.

As a company that runs on data centres, Dropbox recognises the impact it has on global energy consumption, and has been proud to announce that all of its data centre storage server power is covered by 100% renewable electricity. This means when storing data with Dropbox, you’re not leaving a carbon footprint.

In order to achieve this milestone, the Dropbox infrastructure team were beavering away behind the scenes, working on not only maintaining best-in-class power usage effectiveness, but optimising overall power consumption, and sourcing more of that all-important renewable energy.

Maintaining best-in-class power usage effectiveness (PUE)

Power usage effectiveness measures how efficiently the power consumed within data centres is leveraged.

This is equally important to business as it is to customers, with the Edelman 2021 Trust Barometer revealing customers are 5.7% more likely to trust companies that embrace sustainable practices.

Dropbox is (rightly) proud to say that its PUE rating is top of the class within the data centre industry. By 2020, the company was already operating at 17% below the industry average.

This was achieved by implementing outside air economisation and thermal containment solutions and by maximising power utilisation throughout the company’s spaces.

But Dropbox isn’t one to rest on its laurels, as the company aims to do even better, further optimising its efficiency by continuing to explore innovative solutions with its current and future data centres.

Optimising overall power consumption

One way Dropbox is optimising its consumption is by quickly powering down decommissioned hosts. At Dropbox data centres, there is now a continuous flow of servers that reach their end of life.

In the past, engineers used to decommission these servers manually. Now, Dropbox is leveraging a new Pirlo system that automatically powers down a server host immediately after it’s out of service, saving an estimated 5% in power over each server’s lifespan.

That said, there are still those pesky servers that sit in an idle state but use power, despite not being allocated to a specific service, which isn’t ideal.

To mitigate this, Dropbox is in the process of introducing a new state in its data centres, HDD standby, which will yield approximately 50% power savings on storage hosts and 25% on HDFS hosts, while still allowing the servers to be accessible if needed.

Finding the right amount of capacity needed on servers is another way the company is reducing its overall energy use.

By expanding the team that monitors supply and demand and moving to a monthly planning model, Dropbox could ensure capacity is being properly used at all times, enabling it to build a more reliable model with more data points, ultimately increasing accountability and allowing for quick changes when needed.

Improvements to infrastructure haven’t been overlooked either, with orchestration platforms currently getting some TLC to maximise overall resource usage, improve efficiency, and lower energy utilisation during peak hours.

Lastly, enter Drop box’s new and improved storage platform, which features 43% more storage capacity, with the view to adopt new technology in the future, to continue the densification and improving overall power efficiencies.

Sourcing more renewable energy

As Dropbox continues to look for new ways to be as efficient as possible, it also wanted to make sure the energy its data centres use was renewable, starting with storage.

In 2021, Dropbox is making significant investments to procure renewable energy, and has already committed to making the direct power consumption of its storage platform 100% carbon neutral.

Because Magic Pocket, Dropbox’s custom-built, multi-exabyte infrastructure, uses on-premise and public cloud storage, there are some unique challenges to curbing carbon footprint in different local regions.

To mitigate this, Dropbox is actively partnering with public utilities and landlords, as well as its cloud partners, to make sure it’s meeting these goals globally.

Thanks to this ‘no stone left unturned’ approach, unsurprisingly, Dropbox is making good progress.

In the last year and a half, it has reduced its data centre carbon footprint by 15% and in the coming years, will only continue to find smarter, more innovative ways to cut back and reach its overall sustainability goals by 2030.

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