Data center sustainability: How to balance AI performance and efficiency
Five expert strategies for reducing the carbon footprint and operational costs of data-intensive AI applications.

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Over the last few years, artificial intelligence (AI) has transcended chatbots and image recognition, profoundly influencing how we work and live in the physical world. AI has also transformed the digital world, revolutionizing the data center industry through enhanced security and predictive capabilities.

However, since a recent study estimates global AI workloads are now using about 4.5 gigawatts (GW) of power – as much as the whole country of Denmark! – we are seeing that these technological advancements come with a cost. AI’s power demands are making life challenging for data center technicians who were already struggling to control power and increase energy efficiency. According to McKinsey & Company, by 2030, data centers are expected to consume 35 gigawatts of power annually, more than doubling the 17 gigawatts consumed in 2022.

As data centers evolve to accommodate AI, efficient infrastructure design and sustainable energy practices are essential. Fortunately, we can help.

5 sustainable practices to optimize your data center

These trends highlight the transformative role of AI in reshaping our energy landscape and the importance of understanding and planning ahead for these changes. To address these power demands strategically, consider the following approaches:

1. Implement a data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tool

DCIM allows organizations to centralize and control data center utilization and energy consumption. Choose a solution with AI-powered forecasting specifically for workload optimization. Through DCIM, you can track Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and carbon emissions while measuring overall system efficiencies. Optimal cooling strategies can be adjusted based on workloads, leveraging an AI engine that continuously monitors usage patterns. Real-time analytics, combined with historical trends, can prioritize power usage throughout the data center and provide insights to inform your broader sustainability reporting strategy.

2. Adopt advanced cooling methods

AI workloads use powerful chips called graphics processing units (GPUs) due to their leading performance and ability to accelerate technical calculations. While GPUs are considered more energy efficient than central processing units (CPUs), they generate enormous amounts of heat. Consider these liquid cooling technologies proven to reduce energy consumption by up to 15% compared to primarily air-cooled systems:

  • Direct to chip – Fluid is brought directly to the CPU or GPU.
  • Rear door heat exchange – Hot air is filtered through a heat exchanger.
  • Immersion cooling – IT components are submerged in dielectric fluid.

While AI requires additional heat-inducing power, on the flip side, AI can transform the way temperature and humidity control in data centers is managed. By studying patterns from data collected through various sensors, artificial intelligence can adapt and optimize HVAC operations in real time, ensuring efficient cooling. AI not only aids in predicting and preventing potential equipment failures, maintenance needs, and environmental risks, but also facilitates adaptive infrastructure optimization.

3. Streamline server utilization

Artificial intelligence can be a double-edged sword within the data center. On one hand, it is very power-hungry – demanding substantial energy resources. On the other hand, AI contributes to data center sustainability. By using AI-powered workload management tools for predictive analytics and capacity planning, organizations can examine performance data to build recommendations, anticipate workload distribution, and trim down idle server time, thus preventing over-cooling and enhancing data center airflow.

4. Investigate renewable energy resources

Green data centers, which leverage energy-efficient technologies, are growing in demand as organizations explore sustainable business practices. These facilities prioritize sustainability in various ways, including recycling equipment, utilizing solar or wind power, and embracing virtualization to minimize carbon emissions and waste while cutting costs. Investigate renewable energy sources alongside regional tax incentives and available grants. While achieving a fully green data center may not be in the cards for your organization right now, renewable energy could be the first step forward in decreasing reliance on conventional power sources that use fossil fuels.

5. Mindfully design and construct your data center

If you are looking to refresh your data center to align with your sustainability initiatives, it’s important you prioritize the location to make use of free cooling and additional water resources. A colder environment with access to reliable renewable energy sources could help you cut operating costs while protecting your data center from temperature fluctuations.

Designing a facility that also prioritizes modular and prefabricated components can reduce indirect carbon emissions during construction, shorten costly build times, and ensure flexibility for future expansion, especially as AI demands evolve. If moving or constructing a new data center is not in your budget, you can still take other steps to promote green practices within your data center. These include:

  • Investing in ENERGY STAR-certified equipment. ENERGY STAR scores provide an overall assessment of energy performance on a scale of 1-100.
  • Considering custom processors designed specifically for AI workloads.
  • Making use of cloud and virtual machines when possible.

SHI is committed to environmental sustainability

SHI can help you achieve both sustainability and cost-efficiency goals. We lead by design. At SHI, we aim to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and are committed to creating a more sustainable future for all. Let our experts help you explore eco-friendly AI infrastructure solutions and provide a free on-site survey. We’ll quantify potential savings and outline tailored sustainability strategies to optimize your data center infrastructure.

Interested in learning more? Join our webinar on Thursday, May 16, 2024, at 12 p.m. EST to discover cutting-edge power and cooling solutions designed to help you right-size your data center, optimize infrastructure for efficiency, and effectively track sustainability metrics to ensure compliance.

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