With SAP’s transition to cloud computing comes the challenge of continuously increasing the energy efficiency of its data centers.

For Michael Wuerth it was “the result of great teamwork.” In June, SAP’s global head of Data Center Services in Facility Management stood onstage to receive the 2015 Datacentre Sustainability Award at the Datacloud Europe global congress and exhibition in Monaco. An international jury of experts from industry, science, and the trade press had undertaken a study to determine just how sustainable the operations of Europe’s data centers are. According to Wuerth, there are many factors that influence data center efficiency: “Achieving top levels of sustainability is only possible if facility management, IT, purchasing, and sustainability management work closely together.”

SAP’s own data centers at 10 locations worldwide count for lion’s share of the company’s total energy consumption. To meet the rising customer demand for cloud computing, SAP makes use of external data centers, but is also investing in new company-owned and run centers conforming to the state of the art in energy efficiency. Despite an increase in energy consumption in 2014 of around three percent from 173 to 179 Gigawatt hours, the enterprise software provider was able to grow its computing capacity at a disproportionally higher rate.

But the company’s efforts cannot stop there, particularly because it has set the goal to lower the net greenhouse gases of its business operations, which accounts for all direct and indirect emissions, to 2000 levels by the year 2020.

“To accommodate the accelerated pace of our customers into cloud computing, we have closely aligned our company strategy with our sustainability strategy to create the Green Cloud,” says Jürgen Burkhardt, senior director of Data Center Operations. Green in this case means climate-neutral, because since 2014, SAP owned and run datacenters draw 100% of their power from renewable energy sources, mostly from wind turbines. Emissions are compensated through Renewable Energy Certificates. Since 2015, SAP’s net data center emissions in Europe and worldwide are completely balanced out at zero.

“This allows us not only to minimize our own environmental impact, it also enables us to support our customers in simplifying their own IT landscapes and increase the efficiency of their own operations,” notes Burkhardt. SAP also profits from these efforts. Wuerth explains: “By increasing our total energy efficiency, we estimate that since 2008 we’ve been able to avoid operating costs in the range of high double-digit million euros.”

“If the rapid growth of the digital economy is linked to renewable energy sources, the IT sector has the opportunity to catalyze transformative change in the consumption and production of energy, with the potential to drive a significant reduction in the greenhouse gases (GHGs) that cause climate change.”

Greenpeace Report, Clicking Green (April 2014)

Data Centers: Fastest Growing Part of Global IT

Scientists estimate that IT accounts for as much CO2 released into the atmosphere as the global air travel industry. Each of these industries churns out about two percent of worldwide CO2 emissions.

The analysis of the SMARTer 2020 report (Global e-Sustainability Initiative) shows the relative shift in the energy footprint of the IT sector from devices to data center and networks, tracking the ongoing growth of internet-based computing and the shift to thin client devices like tablets. Data centers will be the fastest growing part of the global IT sector energy footprint as our online world rapidly expands; their energy demand will increase 81 percent by 2020.

Based on estimates the aggregate electricity demand of the cloud (including data centers and networks, but not devices) in 2011 was 684 billion kWh. If compared with the electricity demand of countries in the same year, the cloud would rank 6th in the world, with demand expected to increase 63% by 2020.

Internet data will almost triple from 2012-2017, growing from 44 to 121 exabytes. Streaming video and audio are the biggest drivers of explosive data growth, along with a 50 percent increase in the number of internet users globally. Netflix and YouTube combined represent more that 50 percent of internet traffic at peak times in North America. Globally, YouTube remains the largest single source of data growth, but social media services Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest are also growing rapidly.

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