05 Jun 2023

Farewell colleagues and keep sustainability at the core of the future...

My last week of work has arrived, and as I look ahead to the final few few days, it’s an obvious time to contemplate what the future holds. As I highlighted in my penultimate blog two weeks ago, I’ve spent many years looking at IT trends in the data centre industry knowing I’d have to figure out a way to make those futuristic concepts a reality in the projects I was working on. Today, with no pressure on my hands to deliver a project, I’m taking one last glimpse into the future solely to enjoy the possibility of what lies ahead.

Sustainability is one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced within the industry in the last five years and it will continue to be for the foreseeable future. We would all like to be philanthropic and hope that sustainability stands on its own merit, which clearly it should.

In reality there will always be economic pressure to counterbalance the desire to do what is right. That economic pressure, however, may also be what holds us more accountable moving ahead. Consumers are starting to put their money where their mouths are in terms of supporting companies that align with their views on sustainability. Corporations are also beginning to see sustainability as more of an investment than a cost, with greater returns on solid ESG performance.

Sustainability touches on so many different fronts. The energy hike we've seen in the last 12 months has been a key driver for the data centre industry towards greater efficiency. The amount of power we consume is being considered for everything from servers and networks to cooling systems to even the code that runs data centre apps. If we truly want to be sustainable, we need to make everything as efficient as possible. There is no point in squandering resources.

Truly achieving sustainability, however, is going to require action and innovation. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are running programmes and applications that can make our data centres more efficient, but at the same time, as AI becomes integrated with every facet of business and industry, it will use a phenomenal amount of energy itself. Going forward, our industry will have a vital role to play in the era of AI, and I believe that data centre operators with an ethos for sustainability will be central in driving its adoption while helping it reduce its impact on the planet.

The emergence of liquid cooling is also going to play a key role. Traditional air cooling infrastructure is being pushed to the limits by the advanced workloads HPC and GPU-powered hardware enable. The future of liquid cooling could really help us reuse existing buildings or other industrial sites that once were just not possible to convert - primarily because they couldn’t accommodate the air cooling and heat rejection equipment needed. It takes the old adage of “reduce, reuse, recycle” in a whole new direction.

That innovation is going to apply to data centre design as well. We are going to have to be more open to completely different solutions in different parts of the world. In regards to energy in particular, there will be parts of the world where we have to incorporate on-site generation because the power grid in that part of the world isn’t as reliable. We could see all sorts of microgrids between wind and hydro and perhaps even still some mixes with fossil fuels as a short term gap. Every solution is going to be multifaceted. Data centre operators will need to analyse the purpose of the data centre, determine which processes go into it, and then design a complete system that is needed for that environment.

If I had to leave my data centre colleagues one final piece of advice, it would be this – before you build something understand the need for it. Talk to your customers but listen with intent and purpose.

Once you've understood what they want to do, we are fortunate to live in a time where we have an abundance of tools at our disposal to help us engineer what our customers want. Communication is at the heart of everything we do and when we don’t listen properly, that’s when we fail. So much time and money is wasted by doing what we think the customer wants versus understanding what the customer actually wants.

And with that I shall bid you adieu, but not before thanking my colleagues at Kao Data and all the other companies I have had the pleasure of working at. The collaboration and camaraderie I have found throughout my career has been fantastic. It is such an exciting industry to be part of and one that I would fully encourage young people to embark upon.

My hope is that in future, the drive for greater sustainability will encourage a new generation of professionals to enter the sector, and they will continue to push the boundaries of what’s truly possible in the mission to reach net zero.

I am having a few final drinks with my team, industry colleagues and friends on Thursday in London, from 5.30pm. If you're reading this and would like to join me for a farewell beer, please drop a note to Jo in our team for the details: jo.oriordan@kaodata.com

Thank you, and farewell!

Gerard Thibault

Gerard Thibault is Chief Technical Officer (CTO) at Kao Data and over his 40-year career has built over 150MW of data centre space across 24 sites globally.


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