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Can green colocation help orgs meet sustainability targets?

Colocation providers prioritizing sustainability draw customers seeking to offset carbon emissions. But many orgs can also take steps to address sustainability issues in-house.

The colocation market has seen a recent uptick in sustainability initiatives as many vendors make steps to go green. However, although pursuing more sustainable technology has many benefits and a good deal of importance to customers, colocation isn't always the best or only answer.

Tier 1 and Tier 2 colocation providers' large hyperscale customers have some relatively aggressive targets for reducing their carbon footprints, which has driven many colocation providers to focus on energy efficiency. Such providers must ensure that they use the most efficient data center resources and can drive increasingly sustainable operations moving forward.

As a result, many colocation providers invest in new methods of building and operating data centers not only to help customers meet their targets, but also to operate in a more profitable manner. Organizations attempting to meet sustainability targets as they scale use colocation partners because it seems to make the most sense.

Colocation providers and renewable energy

Colocation providers have made massive investments in renewable energy resources. They not only buy carbon offsets but look for more direct ways to shift to greener sources of electricity.

"Colos and large data center operators are also making investments in new ways to store energy, and some are even shifting away from diesel backup generators," said Jennifer Cooke, research director at IDC. Such organizations aim to avoid pollution even during short periods of operation.

Many colocation providers also reuse concrete from demolished buildings, recycling it to build their modernized sites. Others employ the same circular economy principles by taking excess heat from the data center and using it to heat buildings where people reside. Still others use excess heat to melt ice on sidewalks.

Colocation providers have also strengthened their green credentials and the pricing they offer as a result by entering into long-term contracts with utilities. Some use AI and machine learning to monitor energy consumption and cooling.

"They can enumerate their green achievements like LEED certification and their initiatives and even whether they use green vehicles on their campus," said Abhijit Sunil, an analyst at Forrester Research.

What this means for colocation customers

Many colocation customers seek green providers not only to contribute to sustainable initiatives but also to appease employees, shareholders and their own customers.

Colocation customers often have a high level of confidence regarding the accuracy of green claims by colocation providers because most green initiatives are based on transparent systems, such as HVAC. Likewise, customers can verify energy use claims through energy utilities or regulators.

"It would be very easy for a customer to see through [any practices that were designed to be deceptive]," Sunil said.

Although large enterprises have led the adoption of green colocation facilities, especially those in the U.K. and Europe where the government monitors sustainability goals, small and midsize companies increasingly pursue sustainable colocation as well.

Efficiency vs. effectiveness of green colocation initiatives

Still, colocation is not a magic bullet. Organizations making moves toward green colocation might not actually address their real sustainability issues.

"Are you going green to feel good, for PR or marketing reasons, or is it cost savings?" said Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO. "It is very similar to cloud. People race there to avoid a Capex problem but they can end up with an Opex problem."

Before assuming green colocation is the answer, Schulz advised organizations to try to gain more insight into what IT resources they have and how they currently use those resources. "Look beyond efficiency to find effectiveness," he said.

Organizations should start by looking at the amount of IT work they perform. For example, if a business has concerns about the cost of electricity or cooling, that organization should determine how much it gets for that watt of energy in terms of transactions that energy performs and the business benefit of those operations.

Although green colocation might suit many organizations' sustainability goals, businesses should first or additionally consider fine-tuning their own HVAC, evaluating their energy usage and taking a holistic view of their inputs and outputs.

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