Companies across the world are relying more and more on data-intensive computing, such as artificial intelligence and big data analytics, to drive new revenue streams and make business-critical decisions. As consumers, we too, not only consume, but also create exponential amounts of data on daily basis. This has led to the proliferation of data centers in the last couple of decades.
While data centers are critical components for all businesses in the digital age, their rapid expansion has led to a significant environmental impact. These facilities consume vast amounts of electricity, primarily produced using fossil fuels, which further contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In fact, data centers are pumping out around 2% of all global carbon emissions – that’s about the same as the airline industry. And, by 2030, data centers are expected to use as much as 8% of all electricity on the planet.
Many consumers feel passionately about reducing their carbon footprints, and they expect the same from the business community. Our research, which polled 2,000 consumers in the UK, found that 42% are concerned about the impact of data center emissions on the environment.
Efforts have and are being made to ensure data centers are more sustainable but whilst we can make the IT infrastructure and operations greener, the issue of wasted data storage undermines this. The continued storage of useless data drains precious resources. According to Veritas research, the power it takes to store such data wastes up to 6.4m tons of carbon dioxide each year. Analysts predict that by 2025 there will be around 91ZB of data being held unnecessarily - that is over four times today’s volume.
Polluting data – consumers say businesses must do more
Significantly, 44% of consumers believe it is the responsibility of the organizations that store their data online to delete it when it is no longer needed. And, over half (56%) say they would like to see organizations doing more to control the negative impact on the environment of data stored in data centers.
In fact, many UK consumers are prepared to vote with their feet if they believe a company is willfully causing environmental damage by failing to control how much unnecessary data they store. Almost half (47%) said they would stop buying from a company if they thought this was the case.
And there lies the problem. Data centers are stuffed to the gills with data that is often no longer needed or useful. Our insights from IT decision makers show that half of the data that enterprises store is redundant, obsolete, or trivial (ROT). Another 35% is ‘dark’ data, meaning that its content and value are unknown. What this means is that, on average, just 15% of data stored by organizations is deemed to be business critical. That’s an awful lot of data center capacity being used unnecessarily, and this has a corresponding impact on the environment.
Developing sustainable data management practices
Tackling the issue of the environmental impact of storing unnecessary data requires a stronger, more sustainable approach than we see today - one that prioritizes data reduction so that it can be removed from power-hungry data centers.
Having the ability to be able to effectively identify and delete ROT data is a positive step forward but requires having the right technology and processes in place to identify and locate such data and take the necessary steps to remove it on a regular basis.
There is also a need to understand the environmental impact of different data storage solutions and explore alternative, more sustainable options. For example, moving data from old legacy media to more energy-efficient options such as flash storage or solid-state drives, that require significantly less power to run.
But consumers have a role to play too. Many businesses are hoarding data from inactive or unused online accounts across their customer base. They can’t unilaterally delete this, but they can work with their customers to encourage them to close these accounts and provide guidance on deleting obsolete information that they no longer want or need.
Time to wake up to the hidden environmental costs of polluting data
With data centers at the heart of the UK’s digital economy, businesses must wake up to the fact that there are hidden environmental costs associated with data storage in the cloud. Consumers are increasingly aware and are losing patience with organizations that fail to take action.
It is now more important than ever for businesses to stop hoarding unnecessary data in the data centres, improve their carbon footprint, and ultimately protect the planet. Those that don’t, may find their customers turning their back on them and opting for more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives.