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Swiss lead charge on data centre efficiency certification

1At the World Economic Forum annual meeting, an alliance of academia and industry representatives announced the Swiss Data Center Efficiency Label with the initial goal to decarbonise data centers in Switzerland and significantly reduce their overall energy consumption.

Initiated by industry association digitalswitzerland and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), the alliance has founded the Swiss Datacenter Efficiency Association (SDEA) which will own the assessment and award process for the label.

Founding members of SDEA include: École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Green IT Switzerland, HPE, the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HSLU), the Swiss Data Center Association (Vigiswiss), and the Swiss Telecommunications Association (ASUT).

The initiative is supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy through the programme SwissEnergy.

Ten pilot users, including some of the world's most renowned brands, implemented energy-efficient technologies and procedures to achieve compliance with the criteria of the Swiss Data Center Efficiency Label. This led to energy savings of up to 70%, with five of the pilot users employing 100% carbon-neutral energy sources.

The Canton of Geneva plans to include some of the key requirements of the label into their next energy-efficiency law as a basis for the construction of new data centers.

The goal is to drive adoption across Switzerland, and the label will also be presented to the European Commission and the United Nations in an effort to leverage the Swiss model for global impact.

“Carbon-neutral energy sources and energy-efficient digital technologies are available today, and it's through appropriate methodologies, industry commitment and policy enforcement that broad adoption can be driven,” said Benoit Revaz, Swiss Federal Office of Energy.

“We welcome projects such as the Swiss Data Center Efficiency Label, which can help to lessen the negative climate impact of one of the digital backbones of our society. We encourage and support organisations and nations worldwide to undertake similar efforts.

Data Centers globally currently account for 1% of global electricity consumption, but the share is much higher in attractive data hosting countries like Switzerland, where the energy use of data centers was estimated to be 2.8% of the country's total electricity consumption in 2015.

Considering the exponential growth of data volumes and data traffic in the next years, methodologies for measuring and managing data center efficiency are needed to significantly reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption.

“Today's methodologies are looking at isolated aspects of data center efficiency and sustainability, none of which capture the overall energy and carbon footprint,” says HPE chief sustainability officer Christopher Wellise.

“The Swiss Data Center Efficiency Label, on the other hand, takes a holistic approach by considering all sources of energy consumption and energy supply, as well as the reuse of energy consumed. Hence it provides the missing links to enable data center operators, industry associations and governments to measure and control the real climate impact of digital infrastructures.

The Swiss Data Center Efficiency Label is awarded for excellence in energy efficiency and environmental sustainability of data center infrastructures and their containing IT infrastructures.

This includes three key components.

  • The data center infrastructure award criteria apply to the entire energy flow, from ingest to output, including recycling capabilities of output energy (such as using thermal discharge to heat other buildings). 
  • The IT infrastructure award criteria apply to energy-efficient IT technology and effective IT usage. Depending on the compliance with the efficiency criteria, data centers can be awarded a gold, silver or bronze label. 
  • In case of compliance with the environmental sustainability criteria, which apply to the carbon footprint, a “plus” tag is added to the awarded level.

The SDEA will continuously update the criteria of the Swiss Data Center Efficiency Label to reflect the high pace of change and innovation in the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector.

One particular area of focus is the fast-growing space of ICT infrastructure running outside of data centers, required to process vast amounts of data in real-time in locations such as factories, vehicles or public venues – commonly referred to as the ‘edge'.

According to Gartner, around 10% of enterprise-generated data was created and processed outside a traditional centralised data center or cloud in 2018. By 2025, Gartner predicts this figure will reach 75%.

Hence, going forward, the Swiss Data Center Efficiency Label will also consider ICT infrastructures at the edge to continue to provide a holistic assessment and control of the energy and carbon footprint of societies' digital infrastructures.

“We are witnessing a paradigm shift in IT where conventional silicon technologies that historically resulted in doubling in chip density and efficiency every two years for five decades have reached their physical limits,” says School of Computer and Communication Sciences professor and EcoCloud founding director Babak Falsafi.

“As a result, sustained IT performance growth can only come from building more infrastructure, including data centers with closer proximity to the data sources at the edge. Hence, this label comes timely to help guide hosts towards energy sustainable IT.

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