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Datacenter operator groups pledge to cut water consumption

Promise to get themselves into gear by 2040. Plenty of time, right?

A group of datacenter operators and industry associations has presented the European Commission (EC) with proposals for minimizing water used in their bit barns as part of a broader initiative to reduce environmental impact.

The Climate Neutral Datacenter Pact (CNDCP) was created last year and signed up to by datacenter operators and trade bodies as part of the European Green Deal, with the ambitious aim of making Europe climate neutral by 2050.

Water conservation was identified as one of five areas for taking action by the CNDCP and the EC, as cooling technology is now taking on a larger importance owing to the increasing density and power consumption of IT infrastructure, and the continued expansion of datacenters themselves.

With water stress high and increasing in many areas, it is vital the datacenter industry acts to mitigate its use of water, the CNDCP says.

To this end, the self-regulatory initiative has proposed a limit of 0.4 liters of water per kilowatt-hour of compute power (0.4l/kWh) deployed, which it is claimed will ensure datacenters run by signatories to the pact will rate among the most efficient globally for their use of water.

A promised white paper from the group will specify additional metrics that take into account regional water stress levels and the percentage of non-potable water used. By differentiating between potable and non-potable water, the proposed measures will encourage use of gray-water and rainwater for cooling, the CNDCP believes.

17-year deadline

However, all datacenter operator that signed up to the pact have until 2040 to achieve compliance with the new metric, a date that will likely seem ludicrously far off to many, given the effects of climate change and pressure on water resources that are already being experienced across Europe right now.

According to the CNDCP, this deadline "acknowledges the lifecycle of current cooling systems and the embedded carbon cost of early replacement." It does, however, effectively preclude the construction of any new datacenter with attached water towers which would be unable to meet this agreed metric, according to the group.

Omdia's head of Cloud and Data Center Research Vlad Galabov said that any action was welcome, and the datacenter industry has already worked hard at improving its sustainability over the past decade.

"After all, despite our reliance on the digital world they power, they still make up the same share of the global electricity consumption today as they did a decade ago," he told us.

However, he noted that the impact CNDCP will have depends on the cooling systems that datacenter operator signatories have deployed in their server famrs, and that not all cooling systems rely on water.

Following the meeting with the EC, the CNDCP said it established two new working groups to define targets for recycling and reuse as part of a circular economy, and to establish metrics for energy efficiency. These working groups have apparently already started work and their progress will be reported at the next six-monthly update meeting with the EC, planned for November.

Signatories of the CNDCP include the major cloud operators – Microsoft, Google and AWS – as well as companies such as Equinix, Interxion and Vantage Data Centers, plus associations such as TechUK, Cloud28+, EuroCloud France and the Data Centre Alliance. ®

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