The past, present and future of the relationship between data centers and the climate

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The impact climate change and data centers have on one another is becoming more apparent and widely discussed within the industry. While the topic is more pressing with each passing year, the relationship between the two has been tightly intertwined for longer than you may think.

The Past

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Data centers grew from server rooms within individual company buildings to individual facilities as the internet boomed in the late 90’s and early 00’s. It became clear quickly that the more data centers that existed, the more energy they used — from 2000-2005 alone the energy usage of data centers grew by 90%. 

By 2007, a federal report made by the EPA raised concerns to Congress about everything from the strain this data center growth would have on the power grid, to greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation needed to support these facilities.

By 2010 Greenpeace got involved, and projected that data centers could consume up to 1 million megawatt hours of power by 2020. They especially called out the use of fossil fuels to power massive data centers, and believed that the IT industry in general would need to become more efficient and sustainable. 

While concerns were raised about data center’s impacts on the environment, the climate was impacting data centers as well. At the time, 2000-2010 were the warmest years on record and racked up a sadly impressive number of extreme climate events. Because of this, The Uptime Institute had to update their estimates for maximum intake temperatures in 2006, citing increasing densities and high temperature of air intake negatively impacting computing ability in data centers.

The Present

In the end, Greenpeace’s predictions were massively off, and in 2020 the data center industry consumed around 196 to 400 terawatt-hours, but the EPA did predict the negative impacts data centers would have on the power grid from their report. Singapore, Ireland, and the Netherlands have put limitations on the construction and power requirements of new data centers. These regulations will start to become more and more common as power, land, and water become more scarce.

In the last six months alone, there have been climate incidents directly impacting the ability for traditional data centers to operate successfully.

Inclement weather events and temperature changes continues to occur, and while they directly affect data centers, the facilities themselves are using resources that directly impact the climate just the same — collectively, data centers are among the top-ten water consuming industrial or commercial industries in the US. Water being a precious, and finite, resource means that over consumption can negatively impact the environment.

The Future

Soon, the strides the data center industry made with technology and mechanical refrigeration are simply not going to be enough to combat the drastic environmental changes. To future-proof facilities, data center design needs to consider items such as:

  • Liquid cooling technologies
  • Alternative, sustainable power sources (geothermal, solar, wind, hydroelectric, etc.)
  • Increased density to handly high performance compute
  • Modular building options for flexible footprints

There are other advanced technologies that can be introduced as well — once fully explored, digital twins may impact the way data centers are designed and how data is stored to best prepare for events that shut down a standard data center today. Digital twins are “interactive systems where you can change things in the digital world, which in turn helps you plan, define and operate assets in the real world.”

While traditionally digital twins have been used for things like industrial applications, scientists are looking to use it as a means to study how it might model climate change — in turn, allowing companies to model how their facilities may react to extreme weather events or new temperature variations.

Companies looking to build or upgrade their data centers may consider using this form of compute to plan for climate extremes and optimize the way their facility is built, and how their data is stored. 

The data center industry and climate change have been, and will continue to be intertwined. Now is the time to define how the industry can rise to the challenge, and protect itself for the future.

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Chad Romine

Chad Romine has over two decades of experience in technical and strategic business development. As Vice President of Business Development for Nautilus Data Technologies, Mr. Romine brings global connectivity to some of the most prominent global influencers in technology. Mr. Romine has led startups and under-performing companies to successful maturity built largely upon solid partnerships. Proven results in negotiating mutually beneficial strategic alliances and joint ventures. Outside of work, Chad has invested time fundraising for the American Cancer Society. Mr. Romine recently helped secure funding and led marketing for the completion of a new private University.

Ashley Sturm

Ashley Sturm is a marketing and strategy leader with more than 15 years of experience developing strategic marketing initiatives to increase brand affinity, shape the customer experience, and grow market share. As the Vice President of Marketing at Nautilus Data Technologies, Ashley is responsible for all global marketing initiatives; she integrates the corporate strategy, marketing, branding, and customer experience to best serve clients and produce real business results. Before joining Nautilus Data Technologies, she served as the Senior Director of Marketing Brand and Content for NTT Global Data Centers Americas, spearheading marketing efforts to open two out of six data center campuses. Prior to NTT, Ashley led global marketing through the startup of Vertiv’s Global Data Center Solutions business unit, where she developed the unit’s foundational messaging and established global and regional marketing teams. Ashley’s career experience includes extensive work with the US Navy through the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness as well as broadcast journalism. Ashley earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in converged media from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

Paul Royere

Paul Royere is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Nautilus Data Technologies. For more than twenty years, he has specialized in finance and administration leadership for emerging technology companies, guiding them through high growth commercialization. In addition to senior team roles guiding strategic business operations, Mr. Royere has directed cross-functional teams in implementing business support systems, designing and measuring business plan performance, leading pre/post-merger activities, and delivering requisite corporate, tax and audit compliance.

While at 365 Data Centers, Mr. Royere served as Vice President of Finance leading a multi-discipline restructuring in preparation for the successful sale of seventeen data centers. As Vice President and Corporate Controller at Reliance Globalcom, Royere led the finance and business support teams to and through the conversion from a privately held company to a subsidiary of an international public conglomerate.

Arnold Magcale

Arnold Magcale is founder and Chief Technology Officer of Nautilus Data Technologies. As a recognized leader and respected visionary in the technology industry, he specializes in data center infrastructure, high-availability networks, cloud design, and Software as a Service (SaaS) Technology.

While serving on the management team of Exodus Communications, he launched one of Silicon Valley’s first data centers. Mr. Magcale’s background includes executive positions at Motorola Mobility, where his team deployed the first global Droid devices, and LinkSource Technologies and The Quantum Capital Fund, serving as Chief Technology Officer. He was an early adopter and implementer of Cloud Computing and a member of the team at Danger, Inc., acquired by Microsoft.

Mr. Magcale had a distinguished ten year career in the United States Navy Special Forces. His military and maritime expertise provided the foundation for inventing the world’s first commercial waterborne data center.

Patrick Quirk

Patrick Quirk is a business and technology executive who specializes in operations management, strategic partnerships, and technology leadership in data center, telecommunications, software, and semiconductor markets. Prior to joining Nautilus, he spent the past year working with small businesses and non-profits on survival and growth strategies in addition to PE advisory roles for critical infrastructure acquisitions. Quirk was the President of Avocent Corp, a subsidiary of Vertiv, the Vice President and General Manager for the IT Systems business, and the VP/GM of Converged Systems at Emerson Network Power, providing data center management infrastructure for data center IT, power, and thermal management products. He has held numerous global leadership roles in startups and large multinational companies including LSI and Motorola in the networking and semiconductor markets.

Rob Pfleging

Most recently, Rob was the Senior Vice President of Global Solutions at Vertiv Co, formerly Emerson Network Power. Vertiv Co is an international company that designs, develops and maintains critical infrastructures that run vital applications in data centers, communication networks and commercial and industrial facilities. Rob was responsible for the global solutions line of business at ​​Vertiv, which serves the Americas, Europe and Asia. Prior to Vertiv, Rob was the Vice President of Expansion and Innovation, Datacenter Engineering at CenturyLink, where he was responsible for 55 datacenters across North America, Europe and Asia. Before working for CenturyLink, Rob was the Executive Director of Computer/Data Center Operations at Mercy, where he led datacenter engineering and operations, desktop field services, call center services, and asset management and logistics for more than 40 hospitals. Before fulfilling this mission at Mercy, Rob held various engineering management and sales positions at Schneider Electric. Rob Pfleging additionally served for 6 years in the United States Marine Corps.

James Connaughton

James Connaughton is a globally distinguished energy, environment, technology expert, as both corporate leader and White House policymaker. Mr. Connaughton is the CEO of Nautilus Data Technologies, a high-performance, ultra-efficient, and sustainable data center infrastructure company powered by its proprietary water-cooling system. Before joining Nautilus Data Technologies, he served as Executive Vice President of, a leading enterprise AI software provider for accelerating digital transformation.

From 2009-2013, Mr. Connaughton was Executive Vice President and a member of the Management Committee of Exelon and Constellation Energy, two of America’s cleanest, competitive suppliers of electricity, natural gas, and energy services. In 2001, Mr. Connaughton was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate to serve as Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He served as President George W. Bush’s senior advisor on energy, environment, and natural resources, and as Director of the White House Office of Environmental Policy. During his eight-year service, Mr. Connaughton worked closely with the President, the Cabinet, and the Congress to develop and implement energy, environment, natural resource, and climate change policies. An avid ocean conservationist, Mr. Connaughton helped establish four of the largest and most ecologically diverse marine resource conservation areas in the world.

Mr. Connaughton is a member of the Advisory Board of the ClearPath Foundation and serves as an Advisor to X (Google’s Moonshot Factory) and Shine Technologies, a medical and commercial isotope company. He is also a member of the Board of Directors at the Resources for the Future and a member of the Advisory Boards at Yale’s Center on Environmental Law and Policy and Columbia’s Global Center on Energy Policy.