Europe: The Uptime Institute’s 2022 Global Data Center Survey reveals the industry must evolve its sustainability reporting practices and prevent costly outages

Sep 30, 2022 | Posted by MadalineDunn

On September 20th, Uptime released its 12th Annual Global Data Center Survey, which analyzed the growth and sustainability efforts of the industry, as well as the challenges it is facing. The report noted that the industry is “growing, dynamic and increasingly resilient” but largely failing on sustainability, suffering incredibly detrimental and frequent outages and remaining relatively stagnant with regard to energy efficiency progress.

One of the concerning highlights of the report was that when it comes to mounting sustainability requirements and regulations, many within the industry are simply unprepared and are failing to track key environmental metrics. Uptime found that while 63% of operators believe that over the next five years, authorities in their region will require them to publicly report environmental data, only 37% did, in fact, collect and report their carbon emissions data, a figure which has only increased by 4% since 2021. Further to this, the percentage of those reporting their water use has actually dropped by 12% to 39% when compared with 2021. While Uptime, in part, attributes this drop to there being a larger, more diverse survey sample in 2022 than in previous years, it also highlighted that operators that don’t track water use say it is because “there is no business justification,” which the report said suggests a low priority for management. It is likely, though, that water usage tracking will become an increasing priority as more and more municipalities only permit data center developments if they are designed for “minimal or near-zero direct water consumption.” It is, of course, disheartening that operators are not taking the lead in this area, considering the environmental implications of extreme water usage and the widespread droughts across the world this summer. 

With regards to outages, to the energy transition, the report revealed that the industry is “cautiously” in support of nuclear power. It was highlighted, however, that there are regional differences. While in North America and Europe, about three-quarters of data center operators believe nuclear should either play a “core long-term role in providing grid power” or is “necessary for a period of transition,” Europeans were found to be warier, with 35% saying nuclear should only play a temporary or transitional role (compared with just 23% in North America). Comparatively, in China, not a single respondent supported the phasing out of nuclear, yet in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, much lower proportions of data center operators think nuclear power should play a key role. 

Regarding power outages, the report outlined that they are still far too frequent and increasingly expensive, with the share of all outages costing operators over $1 million has reached 25%, a significant increase from 15% in 2021. Although in 2022, the percentage of operators experiencing an outage is down to 60% from 69% in 2021, the frequency of outages is still “much too high,” and more than two-thirds now cost operators upwards of $100,000, which the report said revealed that the consequences of outages are getting worse. In addition, those who have experienced outages were asked whether they think their most recent impactful outage would have been preventable with better management, processes or configuration; nearly four in five say “yes.” Subsequently, Uptime outlined that the most “impactful and cost-effective” way to reduce outage occurrences is to improve management, planning, and training.

There are, however, increasing efforts being made to improve the resiliency of data centers. Approximately 40% of respondents said that over the last three to five years, they had increased the redundancy levels of their primary data centers, while a third of operators outlined that they have upgraded their power and cooling systems.

Interestingly, the report also found that organizations are more likely to trust the cloud for mission-critical workloads, this is despite the fact that over a one-third of respondents reported that public cloud availability zone outages (which Uptime Institute outlined are relatively common) would cause significant performance issues.

The industry has experienced challenges with regard to supply chain issues, with half of the respondents involved with data center construction seeing significant delays in their supply chains, and a third experiencing moderate issues. Moreover, around two-thirds expect data center projects to be affected by supply chain delays in the next two years. That said, it's important to note that respondents also cited staffing shortages as a barrier to the data center sector’s future growth. This is because the industry is experiencing serious problems with attracting and retaining qualified staff. A total of 53% of data center operators reported difficulty finding qualified employees in 2022, which is up from 47% in 2021 and 38% in 2018. Likewise, with regard to retention, around 42% of respondents reported issues with staff being hired away, rising from 17% in 2018.

Speaking about the report, Andy Lawrence, executive director of research, Uptime Institute Intelligence, commented: “The global digital infrastructure sector continues to enjoy strong growth and expansion, despite the many obstacles operators are facing today. We’ve seen the industry invest in increased resiliency and reliability, but there’s still work to be done when it comes to improving efficiency, environmental sustainability, outage prevention, staffing pipelines and more.”

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