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Future Gazing meets Future Proofing at DCD London

Astrid Wynne, Sustainability Lead Nov 20, 2019

How can we ensure that the innovations of today will have the resources to last in the future? This question was a running theme behind many talks DCD London this month. In amongst conversations about faster connections, more powerful compute and maximisation of CPU performance were discussions about water usage, renewable power and stripping machines down to only the most necessary components. “Efficiency” and “sustainability” have often been said to be two sides of the same coin. It was interesting to see the many iterations of this at the conference.

One of the most interesting takes on this was the Major Panel: How will the data centre industry deal with exponential data growth as Moore’s law slows down? Deftly widening the definition to the one of increased performance at a lower cost, panellists agreed that Moore’s Law was definitely alive and well. They spoke about advent of new technologies like quantum computing, which allows simultaneous calculations and may well revolutionise the digital industry in 5-10 years’ time. However, they also alluded to the fact that as technological challenges are answered, new environmental ones arise. Quantum computers operate at absolute zero – the same temperature as space. This raises questions about cooling systems going forward as well as the new bill of materials data centres will require. Liquid helium and indium, which appear on both the US and EU list of critical raw materials, would both be on this list.

This last point was especially important to me because of the project I was at the event to help publicise. Techbuyer had been invited to take part in the “Journey towards a circular economy for the data centre industry” panel discussion alongside other members of the CEDaCI project. This brings together stakeholders from the various different stages of the lifecycle of enterprise in order to develop ways of transforming “e-waste” into “e-resource”. With so many precious and rare materials in electronics, this will be essential as our reliance on digital technologies grows. Listening to the issues raised at the previous panel discussion highlighted just how challenging creating decision making tools about could be as the industry reinvents itself.

Part of the answer on this may well prove to be clever systems design. By embedding a commitment to integrating new equipment into legacy systems and repurposing as much as possible, we make best use of what we have. We also give ourselves time to design better ways of recovering materials from end of life hardware and develop more efficient recycling technologies. This concept was demonstrated by the immersive cooling technologies on show at the event. These remove the need for a server casing, which is relatively environmentally costly to produce. They also remove the need for heatsinks and allow the CPU to perform at a higher rate. In short, they allow the data centre to do more with less.

This philosophy is replicated in other areas, such as the integration of legacy hardware into an upgraded network for Virgin Media or Google’s use of household waste water in data centres. The latter is expressed as a circular economy initiative and the former as a cost saving exercise but the outcome is broadly similar. It is all evidence that the industry is moving towards making do with less new and more repurposed resources. Mapping this out at component level will be challenging. For one thing, no one is sure about the amounts of each material in the equipment and for another, no one is sure where the equipment ends up after its first use. However, the will to find out is there.

It was encouraging to see how well people reacted to the CEDaCI project at DCD London. It was shortlisted for Nonprofit Industry Initiative of the Year at the DCD Global Awards. Hopefully this will inspire as many industry representatives as possible to get involved. You can find out more here.

Techbuyer is a global specialist in the buying, selling and refurbishing of data centre equipment. With three year warranties, throrough testing and over 225,000 IT parts in stock, our IT solutions are sustainable, reliable and can be deliveried quickly around the world. To find out more about our sustainable approach to IT, you can read about our refurbished servers here.