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New certification system encourages greener data centers

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computer science
sustainability
environment
data

EPFL, along with other members of a tech-industry consortium, introduced the world’s first energy-efficiency certification system for data centers.

“When we created EcoCloud in 2011,” says director Babak Falsafi, “the goal was to cut data centers’ energy use and CO2emissions – at the time, IT industry heavyweights cared only about the financial and business aspects. We developed pioneering technology that brought renewable energy into the data center ecosystem.” His research center aims to spur innovation across the ICT sector – from algorithms to infrastructure – to help meet today’s major challenges.

And data centers will play a growing role in those challenges as people rely more and more on digital technology. The amount of power consumed by data centers is set to expand rapidly, and by 2030 could account for 8% of global electricity use.

Making data centers carbon-free

To help keep that electricity use in check, a consortium of Swiss tech-industry organizations created the Swiss Datacenter Efficiency Association (SDEA). The initiative was spearheaded by digitalswitzerland and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE); members include EcoCloud, HPE, Green IT Switzerland, the Luzern University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HSLU), the Swiss datacenter association (Vigiswiss) and the Swiss telecom industry association (ASUT). The initiative is also being supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) through its SwissEnergy program.

In January 2020, the SDEA introduced a green certification system specifically for data centers. The system involves calculating data centers’ carbon footprint based on the energy efficiency of the building and IT equipment, as well as the IT equipment’s power load. “Until now, there was no way to measure data centers’ impact on CO2 emissions,” says Falsafi. “Our certification system is unique because it also factors in the source of the power used and how well heat is recovered. Everything is connected – if a data center uses renewable energy, its performance improves.”

«Our certification system is unique because it also factors in the source of the power used and how well heat is recovered.»

The SDEA uses three certification levels (bronze, silver and gold) to encourage data center operators to cut their power consumption. Pilot tests at ten sites in Switzerland show that the SDEA’s “toolkit” effectively takes into account their efforts to shift in full or in part to renewable energy.

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