A world without data centres?

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Picture a world without data centres - an unimaginable thought for the IT industry

Yet data centres have come under fire for their contribution to carbon emissions – a recent estimate from the International Energy Agency (IEA) allocates 1% of greenhouse gas emissions to data centres and data transmission networks. But the reality is that we depend on data centres, and the alternative (storing servers on premise in potentially outdated, inefficient and more environmentally unfriendly server rooms) is a far less viable option than migrating to purpose-built data centres, specifically designed to minimise carbon emissions and provide a sustainable solution to the problem of storing ever-increasing volumes of business-critical IT and workloads.

Ultimately, data centres are the backbone of the digital era, and their absence would lead us to a potentially chaotic, unconnected and, arguably, regressive world. With so many potential impacts if data centres were to disappear, it’s hard to know which ones to focus on most – but here are a few:

Impact #1 - a catastrophic loss of data

Data centres store and process vast amounts of data that are generated from diverse applications and connected devices worldwide. Without these data centres acting as a central point of storage and management, maintaining the bulk of digital data would be impossible. Cloud infrastructure, online transactions, emails, multimedia content, streaming services and social media platforms (to name a few) would disappear, leading to a monumental loss of digital history and serious issues around privacy, security and data retrieval.

Impact #2 - a dramatic impact on the global economy

Data centres drive digital transformation and innovation, which is helping to revolutionise most industries today. The sheer size of the data and capacity required for processing this information is impossible without modern infrastructure. A world without data centres could result in a calamitous impact on our global economy – everything from financial transactions, supply chain management systems and software development would grind to a halt. To continue essential operations, businesses would have to resort to forms of operations that are outdated and impossible to maintain at scale.

Impact #3 - a faltering healthcare system

Data centres play an essential role in healthcare, from supporting advanced research to storing patient data. The worldwide deployment of electronic health records in recent years has revolutionised the field of medicine, helping to improve patient outcomes. In a world without data centres, the healthcare industry would not be able to run efficiently. Remote consultations, telemedicine and AI-enabled medical diagnosis would cease to exist. Furthermore, a lack of centralised data storage would also put patient confidentiality at risk.

Impact #4 - environmental damage

We know that data centres are responsible for around 1% of global emissions (IEA, 2023). However, while they may seem an environmental burden, they also bring us closer to achieving a sustainable future. Data centres have been working hard to reduce their carbon footprint. For instance, they are increasingly powered by renewable energy sources and are incorporating energy-efficient technologies. Removing data centres would only shift their work to less efficient and less environmentally-friendly solutions, which would ultimately cause even more environmental damage.

The way forward: the need for action and awareness

Data centres are undeniably essential in the modern digital world, and it is crucial that we establish a coordinated approach to reduce the environmental impacts of our data centre facilities. The data centre sector is already working towards a more sustainable future and is innovating to reduce carbon emissions. At Datum, we are part of the GRESB assessment scheme, which measures and compares ESG (environmental, social and governance) performance within sectors and provides a benchmark to track our performance over time. Sustainability is also at the heart of our current and future construction projects, including solar PV panels, energy efficient cooling, minimising water consumption, heat re-use capabilities for nearby housing (where applicable), 100% renewable energy and carbon offset, and HVO in our backup generators.

Talk to us if you are considering migrating your IT off premise

We know that we must do all we can to minimise the negative effects of our work, and we will continue to strive to improve our environmental credentials. We are currently expanding our London edge and Manchester sites to meet increasing demand, so this is the perfect opportunity to secure your data centre footprint.