Europe’s sustainable data centres can help boost growth – and your green credentials

Lex Coors, Chief Datacenter Technology and Engineering Officer, Digital Realty

November 29, 2022

Not so long ago, the main features companies looked for in a data centre would likely have included high-tech reliability and resilience, low running costs, and everything in between. Sustainable design and operational practices were more of a nice-to-have, embraced by progressive data centre operators to reduce operational costs.

But more recently, all that’s changed. While nobody could have foreseen the major energy supply challenges that 2022 has brought, sustainable data centre operations and low-power usage effectiveness (PUE) have become crucial operational competencies over the past five to eight years.

Why should this be so? First, companies must now address the changing expectations of their customers, whose procurement policies are preferencing data centre operators that have invested in sustainability.

Second, sustainable data centers are essential in winding back the environmental impact of data gravity, the rapidly increasing dynamic created by the widespread centralisation of data.

Third, it’s become clear that companies need to understand the future of legislation to avoid big faults in data center design. Enterprises looking to expand into the European market need to be particularly attuned to this new business imperative. For example, the European Union (EU) has launched a concerted ‘green digital sector’ campaign to promote sustainability in a data centre industry that already accounts for 2.7 percent of the EU’s electricity demand – and is expected to further increase energy demand by 28 percent by 2030.

EU research, a formal Code of Conduct on Data Centre Energy Efficiency, Green Public Procurement criteria, the 2021 Energy Efficiency Directive, Ecodesign Regulation for servers and data storage products are all designed to highlight the risks of poor sustainability practices and push European operators toward sustainable practices.


Mitigating the impact of data gravity

Change can’t come soon enough, given the increasing infrastructure demands due to data gravity, which Digital Realty’s Data Gravity Index has predicted will increase by 144 percent globally through 2024.

The effects of data gravity will be particularly pronounced in European markets such as Germany, France, and the UK. Their status as financial services, banking, and insurance centers has made them magnets for ever-increasing volumes of data.

For multinationals continuing to expand their data-driven strategies, the situation is only going to get more complicated. Our recent Global Data Insights Survey found that 93 percent of businesses with more than $US1 billion in revenue will add new business points of presence in the next two years – including 71 percent that will add at least six new points of presence, and 21 percent that will add more than 10.


Source: Digital Realty Global Data Insights Survey


According to the survey, 57 percent of North American companies and 40 percent of APAC companies keep their data very or somewhat decentralized – and these new locations are part of the growing need for multinationals to decentralize their data, storing and processing it closer to customers in line with increasingly strict local governance requirements.

Decentralising data management also boosts performance and reduces latency, improving the customer experience. At the same time, it facilitates the creation of connected data communities, which rely on fast, secure connectivity between key technology partners, cloud service providers, and customers working together and empowered by a common data store.

In today’s globally distributed business environment, the push for decentralisation also provides new opportunities for multinationals to take advantage of local operators’ investments in areas such as sustainability. For example, a data centre platform such as Digital Realty’s PlatformDIGITAL® that enables centres of data exchange can allow enterprises to create a sustainability-focused ecosystem with other partner businesses within the connected data community.


Benefiting from global best practices

Without a clear sustainability plan, the costs of managing so much data will spiral out of control. This will become a liability for companies struggling to manage the cost and carbon footprint of their growing data operations.

The EU’s progress in promoting sustainable operations and business practices is a beacon for North American and Asia Pacific companies that want to – or need to – manage data in the region.

The EU also offers important guidance for companies aiming to strengthen their role within the circular economy. This has become increasingly important for supporting sustainability objectives as data centre operators look more closely than ever at their strategies for purchasing, maintaining, reusing, and upgrading core equipment.

European countries are world leaders in developing green energy sources, with 54 percent of power in Sweden coming from renewable sources and Denmark being the world leader in solar and wind power (1) adoption The Green Future Index 2022 ranks 16 European nations among the world’s 20 greenest countries.

EU and national guidelines can help reduce your organisation’s overall dependence on carbon-intensive data center centre. They can also support environmental, sustainability, and governance (ESG) objectives such as data localisation and the strict privacy controls of the EU’s general data protection regulation (GDPR).


Finding a partner with right sustainability credentials

The key to tapping these benefits is to work with a European data centre operator with the credentials, scale, and track record of sustainable practices necessary to meet ESG requirements.

At Digital Realty, we have long worked to apply sustainable practices to our PlatformDIGITAL infrastructure – which covers more than 300 data centers across 26 countries, including 15 in Europe and connected data communities uniting over 700 partners.

In fact, we first saw the signs around 2012, which is when we first began adopting such features as energy efficiency, clean energy, and zero or extreme low water usage into our data centre designs, in line with the EU Code of Conduct for data centre energy efficiency. An initiative, where we have been stakeholder since 2008 and have been instrumental in writing and updating the best practices since in the same way as we got involved with global organisations such as The Green Grid.

Today, our initiatives include a formal Environmental Sustainability Policy, a Supplier Code of Conduct, and clean energy certifications.

100 percent of the electricity used in our European Data centres is matched with renewable energy. Our French campuses are carbon neutral for Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions.

Through a collaboration with Vertiv Network Power, we have dramatically reduced our Energy Usage for cooling our data centers by replacing conventional DX cooling systems with a pumped refrigerant system and where possible for traditional chilled water Cooling as well for Turbocor chillers in combination with free cooling capabilities. This has also dramatically cut water usage across our data centers.

Innovative solutions such as our award-winning Marseille River Cooling solution provide up to 30 times the energy efficiency of traditional cooling systems. Innovative aquifers also boost our environmental credentials in Amsterdam, Switzerland, and Marseille.

Our commitment to sustainable operations is driving us to continue to identify new ways to reduce the environmental footprint of our extensive operations in Europe and around the world.

We continue to work with other sustainability leaders to not only progress our commitment to sustainability but also to share learnings with partners and customers that are similarly committed to improving the sustainability of their data management operations.

If you’re looking to expand into European markets – or just need to decentralise your data in line with increasingly common practice – there’s a lot to love about the continent’s sustainability successes. And by working together towards a common purpose, we can help your business manage increasing data gravity, with solutions that won’t cost the earth.


Want to learn more? Download Digital Realty’s eBook, Your Data-First Guide to Expanding into Europe