Data Centre Sustainability Innovation Of The Year.
Launched in January 2021, Interact is a proprietary machine-learning tool that helps data centres increase energy efficiency, decrease costs, and reduce the environmental impact of their IT hardware. It does this by offering vendor-neutral hardware recommendations based on real-time product data from across the server market, which promotes the circular economy and reduces indirect (scopes 2 and 3) carbon emissions.
Severs come with significant environmental costs. Not only do they account for 65% of the average datacentre’s energy draw, but the production of a single server emits around 922 kg of CO2e. Severs also have an impact from a materials perspective, as they contain over 10 of the 30 Critical Raw Materials identified by the EU as in low or politically unstable supply. With recycling technologies unable to recover anything near 100% of these materials (or any of the CO2e emitted during production), product life extension is crucial for sustainability.
Unfortunately, IT refresh strategies often overlook these issues. The market continues to operate under the assumption that new generations are more efficient and sustainable by default due to the historical trend of significant performance improvements between successive generations (as predicted by Moore’s Law). However, with the documented slowdown in Moore’s Law, this is no longer the case, as the incremental gains from new servers are increasingly small. As a result, this industry practice is inefficient and leads to huge amounts of e-waste – which already exceeds 53 million tonnes per year globally – as servers are often bought new while the hardware they are replacing is simply scrapped.
Moreover, the industry’s attempts to improve efficiency are largely limited to Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), which focuses more on the efficiency of a data centre’s cooling systems than the efficiency of the servers themselves.
The data centre sector is expanding rapidly, so these issues are only set to increase. Global internet traffic surged by over 40% in 2020 with 200-250 TWh1 of energy used. Already, digital makes up 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is up 32% from 2013. Consequently, a solution is urgently required.
Techbuyer worked with the University of East London on a 2-year Innovative UK Knowledge Transfer Project (KTP) to establish the performance and energy draw of different generations of server and upgrade configurations. The research included thousands of hours of benchmarking and analysis on multiple generations, brands, and configurations of servers.
The results of the research (published in the IEEE Transactions on Sustainable Computing) proved that an immediate past generation could outperform the latest with the correct upgrades, and could therefore be the most efficient and sustainable option for many use cases. This project was voted the Energy Efficiency Project of the year at the DCS awards in 2021.
This project led to the development of the Interact tool, which offers hardware-agnostic new and refurbished server recommendations. To do this, it carries out component and rack-level analyses of datacentre IT hardware to identify the worst performing slice of a server estate before suggesting the best hardware to replace this with for optimum energy and carbon efficiency gains or cost reductions, including projections over time.
This process is entirely non-intrusive. No complex infrastructure is necessary unlike others on the market. Users simply give their configuration, which the tool then analyses. The findings are delivered to the customer in a clear report, which enables data centre managers to make the best decisions for their business and the environment.
The tool is powered by a cutting-edge machine-learning model that uses thousands of server records to estimate energy consumption. This was a complex process that started by fuelling the machine learning model with over 700 filtered SPECpower ssj2008 server results. The model was then trained to predict idle power, power at full load, and performance at full capacity for any server configuration. These parameters were later fed to an energy model that estimates a server’s annual energy consumption based on its utilisation rate and predicted power values. This methodology has since been substantiated in a peer-reviewed article in the academic journal Sustainable Computing: Informatics and Systems.
Over 100 proofs of concept have now been delivered, with average per-datacentre savings over five years of:
- 2,800 tonnes CO2e emissions
- 8.3 million kWh energy use
Several customer case studies highlight the impact this can have. For a UK healthcare data centre with 2,741 machines, Interact’s analysis showed that consolidating to 865 servers could deliver the same compute power with the following savings over five years:
- 40,352,635 kWh of energy
- 10,330,274 kg CO2e of emissions from energy use (scope 2)
- 797,530 kg CO2e of supply chain emissions (scope 3)
- £7,413,178 GBP of costs
Interact also accounts for different market conditions like the price of energy and the ratio of renewables in the supply. This was crucial in a project with a Chinese data centre with 482 servers. The analysis showed that consolidating to just 79 servers could match the compute power with the following savings over five years:
- 7,197,602 kWh of energy
- 3,994,669 kg CO2e of emissions from energy use (scope 2)
- 72,838 kg CO2e of supply chain emissions (scope 3)
- £1,052,376 GBP of costs
As a result of projects like these, the tool has received recommendations from several customers, three of which are below.
- “Combining innovative IT solutions with algorithm-based hardware analysis to optimise your IT estates, this is a 'first of its kind' software tool”, Datacentre Services 4 U
- “It is a great tool to make operational decisions as well as to demonstrate quantifiable improvements in company reports”, AIM-listed Cloud Services Provider
- “Interact's software solution is an elementary building block in High Knowledge GmbH's consulting and planning portfolio”, High Knowledge GmbH
WHY IT SHOULD WIN
- Interact rethinks the way that IT infrastructure is managed. It is the first tool of its kind to balance carbon avoidance from refurbished hardware with carbon avoidance through energy efficiency measures, going beyond the limited PUE metric.
- It is the only software tool that provides concrete recommendations for businesses’ IT hardware to minimise the environmental impact of their equipment while also considering core business metrics like performance, space use, and energy requirements.
- It is non-intrusive, secure, and accessible: analyses can be conducted remotely using only the current hardware configurations and the specific use case.
- Its recommendations are entirely vendor neutral, and they include suggestions for refurbished hardware when this would be the most efficient option.
- It is underpinned and substantiated by ground-breaking peer-reviewed science that has been published in two leading academic journals.