How Digitization Drives Energy Efficiency

The digitization of our economy has dramatically reduced the use of paper and transportation systems. Modern data centers supporting this process contribute to a significant reduction in carbon emissions and overall energy consumption.

Anthony Wanger is the President and Founder of i/o Data Centers. He directs the company's strategic affairs, handles acquisition activities, and oversees the company’s marketing, HR and legal functions.

i/o Data Centers

The transition from physical, "offline" processes to digital, online processes is referred to as digitization or dematerialization. Processes that are digitized produce less carbon emissions than their analog counterparts. Data centers provide the infrastructure that enables this digitization to occur, serving as the foundation for the energy efficient enterprise.

Over the past 20 years there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of offline processes that have been digitized - everything from software distribution to financial transactions to medical record keeping. The combined effect of all of these digital processes is a macro-scale reduction in the overall use of materials and a more efficient distribution of the materials.

With the advent of the commercial Internet in the 1990s, companies have improved how they interact with their customers, partners and employees. Prior to the World Wide Web and email, businesses and government transacted in mostly inefficient and unconnected ways. For example, in order to pay a bill, a buyer would send a paper-based check by mail, which would be delivered to the recipient by way of a network of carbon-emitting postal vehicles.

Today, bills can be paid online in a matter of minutes. By digitizing this offline process, the need for material (i.e. paper) to be created and transported has been eliminated. This in turn has resulted in a significant reduction in CO2 emissions.

The impact of dematerialization has been quantified by a number of prominent corporations and research institutions including Microsoft, Intel, Lawrence Berkley Labs and Stanford University.

  • A recent paper by Dr. Jonathan Koomey, senior researcher for Lawrence Berkley Labs, studied the impact on CO2 emissions resulting from the purchase of music online as compared to the purchase of a compact disc at a music store. Their research shows that the process of purchasing music online can reduce CO2 emissions, on a conservative basis, between 40%-80%.
  • A comparative carbon footprint study of Microsoft’s Office 2007 product suite found that the digital delivery of their product to customers reduced carbon emissions by 88%.
  • According to NPG Group, Apple leads the U.S. with 25% of all music sold, surpassing both Wal-Mart and Apple’s iTunes music service has materially changed the way music is purchased and in so doing has eliminated a substantial portion of the carbon footprint related to the offline distribution of music.

iTunes, software distribution, online bill payment and many other digital services are delivered by a complex array of IT systems including servers and telecommunications networks. These servers and networks are located in data centers. Data centers provide the infrastructure (i.e. power, cooling, network access) required by these digital services to function.

Most corporate data centers are built to accommodate the IT needs of a single business unit or department. Large, commercial-grade data centers leverage the economies of scale to reduce energy consumption. Instead of operating ten smaller data centers, an organization could consolidate their IT infrastructure into one or two large data centers and reduce the costs and energy associated with operating separate cooling, UPS, backup power and network access systems.

Modern data centers use the latest technologies and engineering best practices including variable frequency drives, light-emitting diodes (LED) fixtures, thermal energy storage, photovoltaic (PV) solar arrays, ultrasonic humidification and sealed cabinets. Collectively, these systems contribute to a significant reduction in energy consumption – especially during peak load periods.

By combining digitized processes with the economies of scale recognized at large, modern, commercial-grade data centers, today’s enterprise can materially reduce the energy it consumes and greatly improve its efficiency. As consumers, businesses and government look for more efficient ways to communicate and transact, dematerialization and the data center will provide the foundation for a more energy efficient enterprise.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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