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How software and automation tools can boost sustainability and resiliency

Image: Adobe Stock / metamorworks

In recent times, data centres have become the focus of much attention, as demand rises, energy costs soar, and sustainability issues persist.

Energy consumption and efficiency have rightly come under the spotlight, but questions about capital and operational expenditure have given way to an awareness and understanding of total expenditure. Similarly, as carbon emissions are considered, so too is embodied carbon for a complete picture of lifecycle carbon assessment.

Data centre resilience and sustainability can be unlocked by employing the new and emerging range of digital software and automation tools during the design stage, through operational life and even into decommissioning. Through techniques such as Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), digital twins, and Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software, operators can reduce operating costs and energy consumption via automation.

Data centres can, and must, be designed, constructed, managed and operated using software and automation that ensures maximum resilience and awareness of the impact they are having on the environment around them to future-proof their sustainability and ensure they can provide answers to global ESG goals. 

Design and build optimisation

Through the evolution of advanced software, it is now possible to digitise the infrastructure design process beyond 3D modelling and create a digital twin that can predict, through artificial intelligence (AI), the complete lifecycle of a data centre.

Tools such as energy management platforms, smart construction applications, and unified operations for data centres, can effectively create and model new facilities, allowing multiple configurations to be tried and tested before a single brick is laid. This ensures that resilience and sustainability criteria are designed and incorporated from the outset.

When combined with CFD technology, airflows can be modelled and optimised, while end-users and operators can experiment with IT layouts, capacity, and scaling to find the optimum configuration. This approach, however, can determine far more than hot aisle and cold aisle layouts.

For example, it can identify problem areas for cooling IT equipment such as hotspots, and help address them before they become an issue. Furthermore, the use of CFD software can provide insights in terms of future planning and load layout to avoid challenges with capacity utilisation.

In essence, software platforms, including digital twins, have now become more sophisticated, and taking inspiration from the metaverse, are being run alongside their operational counterparts for change management, scenario exploration and experimentation. This level of digitalisation can provide greater insight, including the implementation of science-based emissions metrics, and common reporting frameworks, while addressing key points such as embodied carbon, which were previously difficult to gauge.

Operational efficiency

Within the data centre industry too, the power of software is creating new efficiencies and opportunities to drive sustainability. DCIM systems have evolved to become hosted on the cloud, thereby becoming interoperable systems architected to cope with hybrid IT, homogeneous estates and services from a multitude of data centre environments.

The term DCIM 3.0 has also come into fruition, where the monitoring, management, planning, and modelling of IT physical infrastructure is made possible, with flexible deployment options that include on-premises and cloud-based solutions to support distributed IT environments from a few to thousands of sites globally.

With the assistance of AI, next-generation DCIM not only orchestrates and manages the distributed, hybrid enterprise, it brings data to life, builds a picture of operations to offer insights for optimisation, reducing the incidence and impact of stranded capacity, and identifies underutilised or unreliable equipment in need of replacement.

Increasing uptime

Another benefit from digitally designed facilities is that end-users and operators can become familiar with the facilities and systems digitally, before ever setting foot inside. This is seen as critical in reducing human error in maintenance and configuration changes.

The 2022 Outage Analysis from the Uptime Institute, for example, reports that almost two thirds (60%) of failures now result in at least $100,000 in total losses, with the vast majority (85%) of incidents stemming from staff failing to follow procedures or flaws in the processes themselves. An IDC estimate puts the organisational cost of human error at $62.4 million annually.

DCIM 3.0 also facilitates predictive maintenance, further increasing resilience. As such, the software can help proactively plan maintenance cycles to reduce costs, ensure adequate levels of uptime and mitigate the potential impact of failures. Moreover, advanced software can serve as the basis for increased automation and ‘lights out’ operations.

Conclusion

The new software capabilities found in digital design tools, operational systems, and modelling, can allow data centre operators to better understand the complete impact and lifecycle operation of a new facility in detail not previously thought possible.

Leveraging developments in sensors, monitoring systems and advanced data analytics, modelling in the form of digital twins is giving unprecedented opportunities to meet the needs of energy efficiency, resilience and adaptability, while enabling sustainability targets to be both met and exceeded. Furthermore, the lifetime impact of a data centre can be better understood and controlled, from design and operations to decommissioning, re-use and recycling.

With digital design and development tools allied to new operational management controls, the data centres of the future will be more efficient from the day they are deployed, more resilient for their operational life, and ultimately, more sustainable.

Mark Yeeles
Mark Yeeles
VP for Schneider Electric’s Secure Power Division in the UK and Ireland

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