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Moving towards a greener future

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It is estimated that within five years, the number of connections between people and other people, people and things and things to other things will number more than 100 billion. At the same time, the world is witnessing incredible new technologies that enable, for example, surgeons to supervise operations based on real-time ultra-HD imaging over 5G. Big data and analytics are helping businesses pinpoint trends and customer needs with astonishing accuracy. Artificial intelligence is no longer in the realm of science fiction; it’s converging with 5G and the Internet of Things to bring us a world where all things will be intelligent and connected.

This is according to Fred Saayman, Huawei Business Unit: executive, at Pinnacle, who says while all these technological breakthroughs are helping streamline our work and personal lives, they are seeing energy consumption soar to previously unheard-of levels.

“If you consider that data consumption in a 5G era doubles the power consumption of telecom networks, the picture becomes even more dire. Think, too, about cloud computing, which undoubtedly makes life easier and smarter, but is supported by datacentres that use three percent of all power around the world. Add to this the use of now dwindling fossil fuels, which have devastated the environment, and the production and use of sustainable energy solutions becomes even more of an imperative.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Technology is also a driver of change and plays a critical role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, monitoring climate change, as well as facilitating the move towards a greener economy and sustainable growth. ICTs are also at the heart of policy-makers’ environmental strategies, and tech giants are working with industries to develop new and better frameworks and standards to address these global challenges and find solutions that promote sustainable and energy-efficient industries.

By utilising green energy, ICT organisations themselves are investing in renewable energy solutions to lessen their reliance on fossil fuel-based energy sources.

Eckart Zollner, EDS Systems

Clinton Scott, MD at TechSoft International, says solving environmental challenges often relies on the same principles as business innovation, but at a higher level of creativity, and while embracing unconventional approaches and a willingness to challenge assumptions through experimentation and continuous learning. Critical success criteria when partnering with organisations addressing and resolving environmental issues is to focus the technology (being used) on the users. By using real outputs that track efforts for every piece of work, you can then follow how you solve a problem, help with a job role, or meet a regulatory requirement.

Scott says it’s important to engage with users to understand their environmental issues and then keep the implemented technology as simple as possible for them to use. “We've often found raw data is available. Still, the tools to turn that data into meaningful information that everyone can understand is not – which is where ICT has stepped in to deliver transformational outcomes.”

Growing green

Organisations within the ICT sector are currently key enablers of ‘green growth’ across different verticals, by facilitating, monitoring, measuring, and reporting on reliable data changes to the natural environment and business operations, says EDS Systems’ business development head Eckart Zollner.

“Moreover, they can drive dynamic pricing for organisations by factoring in all the carbon emission costs across the supply chain with regards to resource usage, pollution, and waste generation. By utilising green energy, ICT organisations themselves are investing in renewable energy solutions to lessen their reliance on fossil fuel-based energy sources. They are identifying ways to improve high energy usage operations, such as equipment cooling, by creating facilities that reduce or remove the need for active cooling and utilise passive cooling.

“These ICT companies are developing eco-friendly manufacturing processes, investing in the use of recyclable materials while establishing recycling facilities and return channels for e-waste,” he says.

If you consider that data consumption in a 5G era doubles the power consumption of telecom networks, the picture becomes even direr.

Fred Saayman, Huawei Business

With datacentres accounting for two percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, it’s critically important to embrace more innovative, virtualised solutions that optimise performance while reducing demand, adds Lorna Hardie, regional director at VMware.

Speaking of the key requirements and practices for building more sustainable businesses, she says: “A combination of transformative technologies, empowered people, and environmental sustainability will be instrumental for a greener world. From a product perspective, technology must enable customers and even partners to make informed choices about embracing more energy-efficient cloud environments. Secondly, employees require a dynamic work experience that not only promotes innovation, but also injects a culture of giving back to their communities. On a more personal level, this necessitates incorporating concepts of wellness and sustainability into all aspects of their lives, both in-office and at home. Companies must be wholly committed to reducing carbon emissions (ideally reaching carbon neutrality), examining all elements, including water conservation as it pertains to manufacturing and the supply chain, and more responsibly managing e-waste. Practically, this means truly evaluating the way you operate in the office on a day to day basis, including recycling, packaging used in offices, and facilitating ease of access for staff to optimise their consumption choices in terms of their environmental impact. It’s not a stagnant approach, but rather something that needs constant review.”

Do it like you mean it

Zollner says when it comes to being more sustainable, firstly, businesses must be intentional about sustainability. “This means sustainability has to be prioritised in all areas of the business. They must also become more agile and scalable to deal with peaks and troughs in the market. Therefore, overheads need to be scaled to output. In addition, their product and service portfolios must be both agile and in line with rapidly changing market demand. There has been a shift in customer preference towards working with and supporting sustainable companies that are environmentally friendly. Businesses need to measure emissions of their products and services throughout the supply chain and partner with vendors that embrace sustainable business practices.”

He says there’s a great need for insights through cloud-based (real-time) technology that can be incorporated into existing networks and accessed remotely. These tools will assist businesses to navigate the complexities of carbon emissions and sustainability.

By using real outputs that track efforts for every piece of work, you can then follow how you solve a problem, help with a job role, or meet a regulatory requirement.

Clinton Scott, TechSoft International

Software-defined networks (SDNs) and datacentres also have a role to play in a greener future, says Hardie. “Virtualisation technologies have served as the bedrock on which companies of all sizes have modernised their datacentre environments. By virtualising compute, storage, and networks, companies can transform into modern software-defined environments that employ a cloud operating model for better agility, flexibility, utilisation, and scalability. However, infrastructure virtualisation technologies not only provide the architectural basis for enhanced operational and business agility in the cloud. They also reduce the overall footprint of the physical datacentre infrastructure. The result is reduced hardware and facilities-related costs such as servers, power consumption, and cooling.”

Zollner adds that SDNs can scale network capacity up and down in accordance with demand, thus bringing energy efficiencies in times of lower network usage. They also reduce the need for expansive hardware redundancies and so reduce the energy utilisation of large networks. “Further to this, datacentres are responsible for the highest power consumption due to their cooling requirements, but the modern datacentre design relies increasingly on alternate mechanical or evaporative cooling. Some datacentres are built in cooler regions or even submerged underwater to minimise cooling requirements.”

The latest tech

Over and above SDNs and datacentres, a slew of emerging technologies such as AI, IoT, blockchain and intelligent automation are being used to build greener solutions.

Companies are putting digital transformation and associated third-platform technologies of cloud, mobile, social, and big data at the heart of their IT strategies. These technologies can propel broader business transformation by creating value and competitive advantage through new offerings, business models, and relationships, adds Hardie.

“The more efficient use of servers, storage, and networking hardware will result in companies eliminating IT sprawl and underutilised datacentre resources. Costs will also be greatly reduced due to lower power, cooling, and other datacentre overhead requirements. At the most basic level, this infrastructure virtualisation enables a net reduction in the amount of physical infrastructure deployed in any IT environment, which leads to an associated saving in datacentre floor space and power consumed by IT infrastructure deployments that have been avoided. In aggregate, there is a commensurate reduction in cooling system power consumption and other ancillary datacentre services that are proportional to its overall operational efficiency,” she says.

“On the storage side, IT can reduce spend on storage arrays by deploying server-based flash along with a software-defined hyper-converged storage stack.”

Server virtualisation is a key element of cloud computing, says Hardie. By reducing the number of physical servers needed, and increasing the utilisation rates of servers deployed, virtualisation software also lessens, often dramatically, the total energy required to support a given service. Lower power consumption associated with server virtualisation reduces the release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. “In fact, every server virtualised is estimated to avoid the output of approximately four tons of CO2 per year. Among other benefits, virtualisation has had an impact on reducing datacentre space requirements, and cooling and management demands. Significantly reducing the aggregate number of servers needed in the market results in a substantial net positive impact from a sustainability perspective.”

Emerging technologies are able to proactively schedule more efficient resource utilisation, provide for a more evenly balanced resource usage. Therefore, they reduce the high peaks and troughs that lead to failures and breakdowns as well as excessive peak demand. The utilisation of these technologies allows for maintenance tasks to be done proactively rather than reactively scheduled, which allows for significant process improvements and avoidance of costly downtime and recovery phases. Furthermore, these technologies provide real-time data, thus allowing an accurate match between supply and demand to be implemented.

Speaking of how to address peaks in energy demands, Scott says energy use naturally fluctuates, and suggests creating a comprehensive roadmap that is focused on high-return predictive analytics with clear outcomes of usage, and that contains achievable milestones. “This is a great starting point for better understanding customers, their behaviour, and their impact on energy grid operations. Additionally, with big data analytics, one can use data to create models that help to improve grid performance and customer engagement.”

For Zollner, energy storage is the main solution to reducing peak demand. “There are three key energy storage solutions that can assist organisations to meet peaks in energy demand, namely, battery storage, hydropower storage and concentrated solar power (CSP). During times of low energy consumption, batteries are charged with energy from the grid. During times of high energy consumption, when peak demand is likely to occur, some of the electrical energy needed is drawn from batteries, effectively reducing the amount of power taken from the grid and reducing peak demand. Hydropower storage is typically a large system that uses a dam to store water in a reservoir whereby electricity is produced by releasing water from the reservoir through a turbine, which activates a generator. Hydropower storage provides baseload (the minimum level of demand on an electrical grid over a period of time) as well as the ability to shut down and start up at short notice according to the demands of the system (peak load). It can offer enough storage capacity to operate independently of the hydrological inflow for many weeks or even months. Then, CSP plants use mirrors to concentrate the sun's energy to drive traditional steam turbines or engines that create electricity. The thermal energy concentrated in a CSP plant can be stored and used to produce electricity when it’s needed, day or night.”

Finally, Zollner says green IT also has a role to play in digital transformation by replacing time- and energy-consuming outdated processes and procedures, with more efficient IT-driven solutions. “Green IT also has the role of informing business operations with real-time data to assist with the transformation to a green digital society. This includes eliminating unnecessary waste or inefficiency, thus reducing cost and increasing market reach.”

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