Features, Insight, Opinion

The significance of green data centres to counter the AI explosion

Ehab Kanary, VP, Enterprise Infrastructure, EMEA Emerging Markets, CommScope, discusses the transformative impact of AI technology on data centre construction and operations, particularly in driving the adoption of green data centres. 

In recent years, no other technology has been hyped about or evoked the same level of fascination as generative AI. In 2024, it’s clear that this revolutionary tech is setting up a dramatic effect on data centre construction and deployments, and on network architecture design in general.

The reality is our insatiable expansion of data consumption and appetite for cloud-based services, accelerated by the promises of generative AI, means the need for robust and secure data storage, faster data transfer, higher compute intensity, and increased data centre efficiency have never been more paramount. And since enterprises first started to move to the cloud: If there’s one thing we know for certain, it’s that our dependence on data centres is only going to increase.

With the growing dependence, the market will continue to grow in the Middle East. According to Synergy Research Group, analysts anticipate hyperscale data centre footprints will grow threefold in the next six years to accommodate the demands of generative AI. One needs only consider the billions of dollars committed recently by several tech giants toward the cultivation of more advanced AI capabilities to understand how seriously the industry views AI’s potential.

Speed to market—how quickly hyperscale, enterprises and operators can get data centres up and running—will continue to be equal parts challenge and competitive advantage. Powered by enormous data increases and further intensified by the significantly higher compute of generative AI applications and workloads, organizations must broadly rethink how they plan, design and construct new facilities (or refurbish existing locations) to not only meet today’s increased demand but anticipate how that will look in the months and years ahead.

But here’s the catch… Sustainability will save or sink data centre deployments.

With heightened awareness in boardrooms of companies’ climate impacts, enterprises must recognize and implement highly efficient and sustainable practices across all three levels of the data centre lifecycle—site location, construction, and operation—while avoiding material cost increases to day-to-day operations. Anything that draws a milliwatt of electricity or power must be optimized, from chips, servers, switches, and cooling systems to the vending machine in the break room. It’s a challenge increasingly aggravated by compute-heavy generative AI workloads.

Fortunately, the Middle Eastern authorities have taken it upon themselves, and has been spearheading a variety of different initiatives and exploring options. For example, Saudi Arabia has looked into electricity-free cooling methods using salt and sunlight, and the launch of the first solar-powered microgrid in Qatar.  We’ll continue to see increased scrutiny in 2024 on indirect footprints as well, from supply chain impacts all the way down to carbon declarations of individual products and materials purchased for data centre operations.

That said, current macroeconomic headwinds continue to put enormous pressure on enterprise leaders to perform a delicate dance—implement sustainable practices and processes without increasing costs or, most importantly, impacting profitability. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ 2023 Middle East Report on ESG, 64% of respondents have adopted a formal ESG strategy and 73% have made a carbon-neutral commitment (or working towards one). Slow and steady wins the race; and despite ESG understanding being at an early stage in the region, there have been clear signs of progress.

The silver bullet: efficiency is the only way forward

In the broader technology space, it’s rare that we stumble across a silver bullet, a perfect, bespoke solution, but for the myriad of hurdles green data centres face in 2024, all pathways appear to lead to a single, intrinsic solution—efficiency.

From a sustainability standpoint, more efficient data centres that leverage a combination of renewable energy sources—wind, solar, geothermal, hydro/tidal, and even safe, reliable nuclear power—mean less reliance on potentially scarce local power sources. AI and machine learning advancements further advance this efficiency by seamlessly pinpointing and addressing power-intensive compute hotspots. Additionally, we’ll see a shift to cradle-to-cradle rather than traditional cradle-to-grave product lifecycles to limit waste, where data centre components that are regularly upgraded, such as servers and switches, will filter into a robust reuse/recycle market rather than going direct to landfills.

As for the vast regulatory ecosystem, data centre efficiency—characterized by minimized physical, carbon, and energy footprints—plus transparent data sovereignty compliance can help reduce social and political resistance to data centre deployments. Physical efficiency, leveraging existing multi-tenant or co-location brick and mortar infrastructure, can reduce overhead and alleviate anxiety for local officials and communities who may oppose watching heavy machinery break ground on vast new standalone complexes.

As competing technology innovations, labour, sustainability, macroeconomic conditions, and regulatory pressures put the squeeze on hyperscale, enterprises, and operators, an unrelenting global appetite must be balanced by an intransigent commitment to efficiency—throughout the location/discovery, construction/design, and operations/management phases—to power green data centre growth and expansion in 2024.

Image Credit: Commscope

Previous ArticleNext Article


The free newsletter covering the top industry headlines