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Colocation Going Green: Improving Sustainability in the Data Center Industry with Iron Mountain’s Jim Henry

It’s safe to say that with the massive spike in internet utilization and dependency on streaming in 2020, data centers are using a lot more power. So of course, that means the ratio of the power purchasing and demand for renewable generation will increase as well.

We know that data center facilities each require massive amounts of electrical power and pump out tons of carbon pollution each year, but with the rise of hyperscale and greater migration to the cloud, more and more traffic is passing through data centers so the level of operations are only projected to increase.

In fact, in just four years, colocation and wholesale data center capacity is expected to grow by 35.2%, exceeding 32 gigawatts of power available to customer IT systems, which is similar to the total electricity needs of a country like Spain.

To get to grips with what can, and should, be done in the way of reducing our footprint in the across the industry and supporting customers in also doing so, we get insights from Jim Henry, Global Compliance at Iron Mountain, who sheds light on the state of sustainability across the colocation sector, and what going green looks like for the future.

Getting on board with sustainability in the North American data center industry

‘Sustainability’ has become a buzzword in mainstream media over the last few years, and its implications in the data center industry are now becoming an important consideration for many customers and operators, including those in North America.

“Not just in North America, but globally, the industry has become much more deeply invested in sustainability and green power as of late, but it’s taken quite some time for it to become something beyond ‘trendy’,” says Henry.

With 57% of data center service providers worldwide believing that efficiency and sustainability will be highly important competitive differentiators in the next three years, the data center industry is one of many that are still at the stage of recognizing the need for sustainability in day-to-day operations, but a shift towards more environmentally-friendly practices is certainly taking place.

Also, with the cost of going green reducing in recent times, some data center operators are driven by a commercial incentive to implement more sustainable strategies. “In the last few years, ‘green power’ purchasing has gotten more cost effective than ‘brown’ power in most cases...,” Henry says, “...which is cultivating a view that sustainability is less of a cost center, and more of a revenue generator.”

“However, while it’s great to offer a product that provides customers with cost-effective energy solutions, it’s much bigger than that,” he says. “Environmental focus and alignment with the core values of our customers is what really matters,” and it is especially critical now, given the growing societal concern for the environment and its preservation.

Henry explains that data center clients are less likely to do business with providers that aren’t thinking about the future, plain and simple. That said, there’s really no reason not to do the right thing and “green up.”

Improving sustainable practice in the colocation space

In terms of putting in place the checks and measures to transform the data center industry from the inside out and truly “go green”, there are a number of practices and clean energy strategies that providers can implement to ensure they are making a difference in this space.

“While we’re seeing a positive shift in the industry because of customer demand for sustainability goals and programs, metrics and achievements are only as good as their verification by an objective party that’s performing validation,” Henry says. “This reinforces the need for independent auditing and accountability of projects, metrics, and impact.”

Fortunately, there are several ways organizations can have their energy efficiency and other environmental metrics verified. Reporting to governmental or locale centric programs like EPA EnergySTAR or DOE Better Buildings in the United States, The Climate Change Agreement in the United Kingdom, or SS 564 in Singapore, is a great way for environmentally-conscious organizations to verify information, according to Henry.

Even better, Henry suggests implementing global management systems like ISO 50001 and ISO 14001. “Using systems like these can provide significant value for companies and their customers through evaluating the entirety of the impact the provider is making, and how continuous improvement is being driven,” he says.

Iron Mountain also has made available the Green Power Pass, which is a renewable energy reporting solution that helps companies reach their goals for sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction associated with the green power they consume at Iron Mountain data centers.

“Educating our customers on Green Power Pass, as well as ISO 50001 and ISO 14001, goes a long way, especially since reporting requirements are becoming ubiquitous with hyperscalers who dictate a lot of the market and have sustainability targets of their own,” Henry says.

Prioritizing sustainability and green power moving forward

As environmental concerns become more important in the minds of data center operators, sustainability and green power are sure to make a more prominent feature in their strategies and operations beyond 2020.

“By now, everyone knows that becoming more sustainable and responsible is the right thing to do, but putting our commercial interests aside and working together at a common goal is imperative,” Henry says.

For Iron Mountain and many other environmentally-conscious companies around the globe, “...the objective moving forward is to operate responsibly, contributing to the global Internet ecosystem, and being an example for environmental stewardship,” Henry says.

“The new frontier of green power is being 100% renewable, 100% of the time, so that’s definitely a direction that we are working towards” he says, which they are well on the way to, having been powered by 100% renewable energy for the last three years consecutively.

Henry says Iron Mountain plans to continue on their path towards total sustainability, but at a consistent, greater scale, while helping their customers and partners to do the same along the way.

Through the efforts of early adopters of sustainable practice in the data center industry, the large majority of operators will be sure to follow sooner or later to remain competitive and accommodate pervasive environmental concerns. This will enable providers and customers alike to reduce their footprint, and ultimately go green, when it comes to supporting their workloads and applications in the not-so distant future.

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Contributor: Jim Henry, Global Data Center Compliance Lead, Iron Mountain

Jim Henry is the Manager of Global Compliance at Iron Mountain Data Centers, and leads the division’s enterprise Information Security, Environmental, and Energy Management Compliance Programs.

Jim is primarily responsible for Enterprise Compliance Management and Information Security Governance, but also leads the overall program management and development of the ISO 50001 and ISO 14001 certified Energy and Environmental Management Systems. During Jim’s tenure, Iron Mountain became the first colocation provider in the world to certify an data center entire portfolio in both ISO 14001 and ISO 50001, next to launching IMDC’s Green Power Pass product in 2019.

Jim has been with Iron Mountain since 2016 holding various roles within the Compliance department, and is a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) accredited by Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA).

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