Towards a Sustainable Data Centre Industry

– a conversation with Paolo Bertoldi

Recently Andrew Harrison, EUDCA Board Member and EUDCA Technical Committee Chair sat down with Paolo Bertoldi, the Action Leader for Energy Efficiency at the EU Commission. Paolo Bertoldi was a driving force behind the development and implementation of the EU Code of Conduct that has been a key contributor to delivering greater energy efficiency across the European data centre sector for over a decade and this was an opportunity for the EUDCA to discuss the progress of the Code of Conduct to date and the future.

The data centre industry continues to grow rapidly as more of our lives become digitally led. This process is transforming many industries including banking, retail, manufacturing as well as enabling the rise of social media and more. As a result, continuing the journey to greater energy efficiency & sustainability is more vital than ever.  

When the European Commission first looked at the data centre industry and decided to develop the code of conduct it had begun began by looking at ICT equipment like servers, UPS devices and telecom equipment on one hand and buildings on the other. Paolo said that they quickly realised that the data centre wasn’t a product or building but a coming together of the products and systems, which meant is was much more complex and that there was a gap in policy making. At the time existing regulations focused on either products or buildings but didn’t quite bring them together to reflect the complex data centre environment. The European Commission was also aware that large “server” farms and data centres were being rapidly built across the region but were not specifically covered by energy efficiency policies at that point in time.

Paolo said that in discussions with the industry, the Commission saw that delivering energy efficient and sustainable facilities was not as simple as putting energy efficient components together thanks the complex nature of how the interoperate with each other and in the physical building they’re installed into. So the Commission decided to work together with the industry to find ways to reduce energy consumption in data centres and this was the birth of the EU Code of Conduct. The work led to the establishment of data centre energy efficiency best practices, developed in conjunction with operators and the industry and then encouraged the use of this throughout Europe. 

When the journey towards the EU Code of Conduct began over a decade ago, Paolo said that the Commission expected to focus on large enterprises operating major data centre facilities in industries like automotive, banking, airlines whilst also conversing with large service providers and suppliers like Microsoft or IBM. 

However, they identified large colocation operators early in the process and noticed that these types of businesses were investing significant sums in multiple facilities and it was working with these organisations that became the core of the work to produce the code of conduct as they were strongly focused on delivering energy efficient data centres.

Paolo expanded further on this aspect saying that over time the Commission has seen a clear shift across Europe from enterprise data centres to colocation businesses and now cloud computing. 

As a new industry that is not heavily regulated Andrew asked Paolo if he thinks the EU Code of Conduct goes far enough. Paolo said that it’s a difficult question as it’s ultimately in the hands of the industry to adopt best practice and to look at energy consumption and optimise it across their operations to support their business objectives. 

However, he added that it’s not like a building in that you can retrofit your way to success as facilities are growing, rather than being streamlined but said that the European Commission do see positives signs that PUE is coming down over time. 

Andrew asked Paolo what his key message to the data centre industry would be and he spoke about the Paris Climate Change report that outlines how every company should have sustainability principles and energy reduction goals in place and is a core focus to collectively combat the impact of climate change. 

The are technical solutions and tools that allow data centres to operate more efficiently, using less energy without reducing the reliability of facilities and Paolo believes that the industry should be fully committed to this approach, which is also good for business as consuming less energy also reduces costs. Of course many data centre operators are already fully committed to this path and well on their way.

Andrew concluded by asking how EUDCA members & interested parties can help support the work of the EU Code of Conduct. Paolo thanked the EUDCA for its continued involvement and support in the ongoing quest to help ensure data centres become more energy efficient. 

Paolo asked that the EUDCA continues to promote the code of conduct to members and to keep working with the EU commission to provide feedback & dialogue on the technical developments and progress within the industry. At the EUDCA we agree that this is key to making sure we continue to move forwards together & that data centres become ever more efficient whilst remaining a key industry underpinning our digital futures.  

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