The customer’s role in data center eco-responsibility

OVHcloud, as European champion with global reach, is faced with major challenges, such as rising temperatures and increasing climatic disasters. We support the growth of the global internet, even as cloud infrastructure requirements continue to intensify. In 2020, to support our customers we must respond to their massive requests, and face together a large-scale healthcare crisis that has accelerated the digitalisation of professions and practices. These challenges are not only industrial, but also ethical and environmental, whether for us as a cloud provider or for our customers, who are becoming increasingly aware of the world of tomorrow.

The customer’s role in data center eco-responsibility

Unbridled growth in data storage and processing

One of the main objectives of the strategic plan that we completed over the past five years is to meet a strong proximity requirement expressed by our customers. Customers want us to guarantee maximum access to their infrastructure in their local markets, and to commit to complying with their legislative constraints, particularly those regarding data sovereignty. Today, we have 31 data centers across the globe. And we have two isolated entities, which means that we are one of the few cloud providers that can offer infrastructures that are not subject to the Cloud Act for our European, Canadian and Asian customers; and others that are subject to the Cloud Act for our American customers.

Our growth has followed the digitisation of the economy, as well as the digitisation of professions, which has only accentuated the demand for storage and data processing. Big data, and more recently edge computing and artificial intelligence, have increased the need to store and manipulate massive volumes of data in real time and in unprecedented ways. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the widespread adoption of new digital tools and the use of cloud solutions for leisure, business continuity and critical service management have greatly amplified this trend. Our data centers are more strategic now than ever before, as they maintain national activities in most of the countries where our infrastructures are deployed.

Responsible industry

A study by the International Energy Agency (IEA), published this year, has shown that despite the exponential growth in data volume, data center power consumption worldwide has not exploded. In fact, power consumption is stagnating. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this was no surprise to industry experts, and is the result of their joint efforts in terms of energy efficiency and environmental policy. The IEA has shown that growing demand does not necessarily lead to a deterioration of the environment:

Image © IEA – https://www.iea.org/commentaries/the-carbon-footprint-of-streaming-video-fact-checking-the-headlines

This global stabilisation of the energy consumed by data centers is mainly explained by:

  • More energy efficient servers and data centers
  • Massive cloud adoption

The graph above provides a good summary of the various cumulative effects of next-generation servers and data centers, whether it be the energy required for a unit of compute, a TB of storage, or the capacity

required for workload. This doesn’t take into account the rapid improvement in data center PUE, from an average of more than 2 before 2010, to PUEs around 1.2-1.3 today for the most recent generations of data centers.

That being said, a net growth in compute/storage requirements should also theoretically lead to gross growth in consumption, which is more controlled, but gross growth nonetheless… Unless we manage to reduce consumption of already existing needs by accelerating migration to the cloud.

Massive cloud adoption should be accompanied by the migration of all small private installations to large, industrially managed data center. Companies that have small on-premises computing rooms are increasingly using our services to operate in a virtualised and shared way, through our huge global infrastructures. In the vast majority of cases, the non-critical size of these On-Premise computing rooms does not justify a massive investment to implement an energy efficiency policy like the one we deploy on a very large scale. As a result, all of these small in situ computing rooms added together are actually much more energy-intensive than their cloud counterparts. Today, most of these rooms, previously distributed geographically, are condensed in our data centers – which are already part of an eco-responsible approach – or in those of our competitors.

The graph below, detailing consumption by data center type, illustrates this dynamic well:

Global data centre energy demand by data centre type, 2015-2021
Image © IEA – https://www.iea.org/commentaries/the-carbon-footprint-of-streaming-video-fact-checking-the-headlines

The consumption of cloud data centers and hyper-scale data centers is growing compared to the decline of traditional On-Premise, simply because they have replaced the consumption of these traditional data centers. There are several reasons for migrating to the cloud: for its features, flexibility, simplicity and speed of use, its price… but its environmental responsibility is a major one. This commitment is rooted in our DNA, and motivates the deployment of a responsible industrial model across all of our infrastructures.

Innovation as a key to success

The issue of our environmental footprint has never been more at the heart of our concerns, both among manufacturers and our customers. Global warming has brought about massive challenges to the way we cool our data centers , wherever they are in the world. All of our infrastructures must be able to withstand both increasingly high outdoor temperatures and the huge amount of heat they generate, without becoming more energy-intensive. To meet this challenge, we are accelerating industrial innovations, particularly those around our cooling system (one of the most energy-intensive stations). We aim to keep our installations at a moderate temperature, and to take our PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) index as low as possible, which we know we can optimise up to 1.09.

Thanks to our liquid cooling technology, developed and industrialised since 2003, we are one of the pioneering companies that has paved the way for more efficient data centers. Contrary to popular belief, water cooling does not waste water since it operates within a closed circuit. Historically, this technology through its vertical industrial integration has allowed us to achieve economies of scale and to establish our positioning as Price Leader by Design. But our growth has never been achieved at the expense of the fair use of our resources, to the point where this has now become a strategic issue that meets our commitments in terms of environmental responsibility.

Our environmental policy also extends to the server level. Designing our own servers while managing the entire production chain is a guarantee for us that we can reuse components wisely and renew them

regularly. We determine their lifecycle, which corresponds to 2nd and 3rd life servers, then to recycling. This virtuous circle also allows us to gradually replace the old parks of each of the server ranges with less energy-intensive versions. We use these levers to improve our overall energy performance.

A mutually enriching ecosystem

At our electronic component suppliers, the evolution of each generation of components depends mainly on the finesse of its silicon engraving, which contributes to significantly reduce its size. This reduction in component size results in a reduction in the energy wastage surface resulting in reduced power consumption and heat release at the server level. It also means a decrease in the size of the server itself. At the industrial scale of our infrastructures, each new generation of components produced by our technological partners is often a huge development for us. By combining them with our own industrial innovations, we can store more servers with an equal surface, compared to the previous range of these same servers. This concentration also allows us to offer our customers higher computing power with equal consumption.

Our commitment to eco-responsible EcoCare is a quest that we pursue in collaboration with our ecosystem of technology partners. It is at the heart of our relationship with them, and is based on our operational and industrial excellence, combined with our great capacity for disruption.

A commitment to transparency

Twenty one years ago, OVHcloud was founded on the promise of making the data revolution a success for everyone, and we believe that the cloud can be part of the solution to bring about new, environmentally-friendly models.

To achieve this goal, we will continue our efforts to minimise our carbon footprint. We will continue to promote sustainable development through more efficient, less energy-intensive industrial designs. Thanks also to new, increasingly accurate energy performance indicators that will monitor all of our infrastructures and help drive the emergence of a more virtuous business model in the cloud industry.

How can we go even further?

Our obsession with energy efficiency and the frugality of our design brings value to us and to our customers, not only economically but also environmentally. But as we can see from the data center consumption curve, migration to the cloud cannot indefinitely be the factor controlling data center consumption. And gains in energy efficiency will become increasingly difficult to achieve. We therefore believe that we should not only optimise our infrastructures, but also look at the higher layers, the applications, analyze how the code is written and determine its impact in terms of energy consumption. Energy efficiency must also be developed at the software level. This is a great opportunity to inform our customers about their own impact, so they can make the right decisions about their own usage.

OVHcloud EcosystemExperience

To find out more, please log in to the OVHcloud #EcosystemExperience keynote on 03 November 2020 by signing up here.

EcoEx2020 - Keynote #1 on November 3rd at 10:00 AM (CET)

Or follow the dedicated sessions (by registration):

EcoEx 2020 - Energy dedicated sessions
  • The OVHcloud Carbon footprint assessment: rates, reduce and offset, with CLO2
  • Data centers, Cloud and IT energy consumption: how to develop a sustainable cloud together, with IEA
  • Energy matters in the Cloud, with INRIA

Francois is Executive VP, Chief Industrial Officer at OVHcloud. In this role, Francois leads the technical infrastructure of OVHcloud from the servers assembly lines to the design , construction and operations of the datacenters globally. Francois joined the OVHcloud adventure 3 years ago in 2017 after 15 years of experience in developing global infrastructure for Telecom and Internet companies. Francois spent 13 years at Google, to lead the hypergrowth of this platform, early on with the extension of the global network , then mega datacenter sites, and eventually helping those to become 100 % renewable powered.Before that, for 2 years, Francois worked on the Orange group worldwide backbone