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Could Open Computing be the Answer To A Greener Future For Data Centers?

As traditional IT infrastructure practices and operations shift from on premises private data centers to cloud technologies such as public and hybrid cloud computing, the demands for computing performance continue to grow. Power intensive applications such as crypto mining, supercomputers, artificial intelligence and machine learning models consume massive amounts of energy and are necessary for the communication, economic, and societal infrastructure we require.

Now we know that cloud data centers consume as much power as some cities and generate carbon emissions that are wreaking havoc on our planet’s ecosystems. In fact, the entirety of computing and communication technology’s carbon footprint is on par with the airline industry’s use of jet fuel. With an environmental impact of this scale, it is no longer up to responsible consumers to make market decisions. Corporations and large enterprises need to take into consideration the amount of data they are processing and how much power it takes to do so.

There are several organizations making it their mission to share and standardize everything from product designs and specs to intellectual property rights in an effort to promote transparency and alternative solutions to this expansive issue. This has led to some of the biggest players in tech, computing and networking industries to promote interoperability and integration through open computing.
Photo: Miakievy/Getty

What is open computing

Open computing is a term that refers to the practice of redesigning hardware and other technology to efficiently support the increasing demands on computing infrastructure. The goal of open computing is to lower the power consumption and operation costs that are involved with today’s massive data centers. Open computing designs and practices propose higher requirements for green energy, conservation and sustainability. Some of these areas of improvement include high efficiency integrated IT equipment, efficient cooling systems, and efficient power supply systems.

The Open Compute Project is one of the most well known organizations that is focused on creating an open and collaborative community that is free from competition and other barriers. Open collaboration among IT professionals is especially important considering that the average web developer in the US has less than five years of experience.

New generations of developers are the future of open computing, and as open computing systems, ideas and processes continue to spread, we can expect an accelerated path to open computing. Other open computing organizations include Facebook’s Open Data Center Committee, IBM and Google’s OpenPower Foundation, and LinkedIn, Hewlett Packard, and VaporIO’s Open19 Foundation.

You can expect to pay a freelance web developer between $50 to $60 an hour for daily business tasks like site creation and maintenance, but to redesign an entire data center is another story. Because of the impact of projects like these, hardware manufacturers are being forced to change their product offerings to keep up with open computing innovations and meet the changing expectations for sustainability of consumers. This helps bring open computing to organizations large and small, so that everyone can be involved in reducing our overall carbon footprint.

Information technology and climate change

A hot topic of debate among climate change activists is data center energy usage. The amount of computing that happens in data centers has significantly increased, putting strain on resources. However, information technology is responsible for much of the progress that has been made towards understanding how to create a sustainable future, which is one of the main reasons it is an indispensable tool in the fight for a better world.

The IT and communication technology spaces take up over 2% of the world’s global emissions, and are projected to be responsible for 20% of global electricity use within the next decade.

At the same time, investments into climate tech have grown by nearly five times from $6.6 billion in 2016 after the signing of the Paris Agreement to now over $32 billion in 2021. Investing in projects and technologies that can help mitigate the energy usage of data centers and encourage circular economy efforts is paramount to humanity’s ability to create a sustainable world for future generations.

A standard data center twenty years ago had a PUE, or power usage effectiveness, of 1.8. Today, that number has dropped to just under 1.2. This means that efforts like open computing that aim to reduce the amount of resources required to run data centers are working.

Still, there are many countries with high population densities that have no choice but to rely on data centers operating well above 1.3 PUE. Open computing has the potential to create an IT ecosystem that can run sustainably and efficiently without compromising on power or scale.

Embracing sustainability with technology

There are a number of factors at play recently that have caused many companies to rethink their PUE. The pandemic forced many organizations across the world to accelerate their digital transformations by adopting cloud technologies, automation, and remote collaboration technologies. Three of the largest cloud providers, Amazon, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud all reported substantial growth in 2020 (29%, 31% and 45%, respectively).

This global shift to the widespread adoption of digital tools also put a magnifying glass up to some of the energy issues that have plagued the IT space since its inception. Because several reports have found that failure to act on climate change is the most significant threat to society today, many companies are looking at open computing and green IT as a part of their digital transformation strategy.

Advances in AI and machine learning algorithms are also helping companies reduce their carbon footprints. The improvement of the algorithms that we use has enormous benefits for consumers, IT professionals, and our planet. Modern algorithms easily take one million times less computation than earlier versions. And less computing time means less energy usage.

But for steps toward open computing and greener IT to truly be successful, reliable data is key. The ability to identify the carbon footprints and PUE of various organizations is critical for nations that seek to take action against climate change, but very few companies actually disclose the numbers on their greenhouse gas emissions and energy usage.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the reasons why organizations should take steps toward open computing practices and carefully consider the environmental impact that their data centers and other operations have on the world.

In the past, it has been difficult to assess the impacts of systems we rely on like energy and electricity since we didn’t have the tools to make sense of all the data. Now, it is clear that companies should be using that data to understand their impact on their environment and take steps toward reducing their carbon footprint with the help of open computing.

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