Dell’s Sustainable Data Center Management Strategy
At Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas, sustainability and the growing demand for processing power were both hot topics. I spoke with Alyson Freeman, Sustainability Product Manager at Dell Infrastructure Solutions Group, to find out what Dell is doing in the area of sustainable data center management.
Plus, Freeman pointed out Dell’s overall sustainability goals. By 2030, Dell wants to use 100% renewable packaging. By 2040, according to Dell’s plans, the electricity it uses will come entirely from renewable sources. Dell plans to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 under US Environmental Protection Agency Scopes 1, 2 and 3.
The following is a transcript of my interview with Freeman. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Carbon footprinting in the data center
Megan Crouse: What is your overall philosophy when looking for Dell’s sustainability action opportunities?
Alyson Freeman: Obviously, it is based on the carbon footprint of our products. This is a very easy way to prioritize initiatives because then we know which ones will have the biggest impact.
[In terms of] for laptops and desktop computers, their biggest impact on the environment is in the manufacturing phase. This is why you see a lot of innovation around recycled plastic, biorubber and recycled carbon fiber.
SEE: Achieving environmental goals with advanced analytics can benefit your business.
On the data center side, we can take all the lessons learned from the Client Solutions Group (notebooks and peripherals) and apply them. However, our biggest environmental impact is in the usage phase – the energy required to operate our equipment. The innovations you’ll see from us are hardware and software for energy efficiency.
On the hardware side, we are examining more efficient air cooling and the chassis configuration [and] liquid cooling options. Software [can] help you manage this energy using Power Manager or CloudIQ to find underutilized equipment in your data center. This is one of the biggest energy wasters in a data center and we are working on these things.
Megan Crouse: Servers and cooling are a big problem in data centers; this can be solved by optimizing chassis flow and using energy-efficient fans. What other developments from Dell reduce energy use in this area?
Alyson Freeman: I would still answer this in software. It’s not all hardware for energy efficiency. You can’t fix what you can’t measure, which is why telemetry is so important. You need to understand where your energy is going and how it is being used. OpenManage Enterprise Power Manager resides on our servers and allows you to find underutilized or “zombie” servers and place power limits. It’s a one-to-many management system, so you can measure an entire data center at once, and it’ll also measure your carbon footprint. Similarly, CloudIQ is on the storage side. This is our energy management software that also measures the carbon footprint.
Megan Crouse: What reduction comparison period makes sense? That is, if you can show that your data center is using less energy today than it was yesterday, but much more than it was three years ago, what is your corporate responsibility for tracking that?
Alyson Freeman: I’m sure there’s corporate responsibility, but that’s what our customers want. They want to know when it makes the most sense to upgrade and invest in newer, more efficient technology and how much it will change their energy bills over time. We have an assessment that helps our customers quickly understand – it’s not an extremely detailed calculation – how much energy and carbon savings can be achieved over time with a technology upgrade. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. It really depends on the customer and what products and configurations they have.
More data, less energy
Megan Crouse: During Monday’s analyst Q&A at the conference, Michael Dell talked about how organizations want to process massive amounts of data while using less energy. How does Dell work on this?
Alyson Freeman: We know the world will need more and more data, especially with all the generative AI, and it’s our responsibility to do that as efficiently as possible. Artificial intelligence can help solve some of these energy problems. There is no ready-made solution today, as generative artificial intelligence is so new…
What can the new data tell you about how you can be more efficient and ensure you use renewable energy at the right time and put your workload in the right place? You will always need the latest products. Running AI requires the best processors. But this does not mean that the old server is no longer usable.
Megan Crouse: Is this related to the concept of “zombie servers”?
Alyson Freeman: Exactly. Make sure that if you connect to the wall, you will get a computational benefit from it.
Sustainability as a service
Megan Crouse: Dell floated the idea of as-a-service as a replacement for the “buy and replace” model. How does this reduce energy consumption?
Alyson Freeman: A service-as-a-service model can be more sustainable in many ways. One is end-of-life care. We can take back the old equipment. Not every buyer has to figure out what to do with their old equipment. Another possibility is that we can help you control where your products are being used. For example, if they’re in a data center powered by renewable energy, we can make sure it’s more sustainable.
What else do businesses need to consider in relation to energy consumption?
Megan Crouse: What other decisions do organizations need to consider when it comes to uploading and modernizing?
Alyson Freeman: You look at the return on investment. How much will this more effective product cost me? How much will I save on energy bills over time? How much do I not spend on carbon offsets because I use this?
Data centers are a rare area where there is no trade-off between business costs and your sustainability decisions. Sometimes a more sustainable solution may cost a little more. In the data center, we are lucky because a more sustainable solution costs less in your energy bills every month.
Dell recycling measures
Megan Crouse: What is the status of renewables in dell’s infrastructure manufacturing supply chain such as PowerEdge servers with their minimal use of paint?
Alyson Freeman: You have to plan with the goal in mind. If you want to recycle a server, you can’t do it if it has glue on it or if the plastic is mixed with the aluminum. We learn from our take-back programs what is most important to recycle the most materials, and we have to plan for it from the beginning or it won’t happen at the end of its life. That’s why it’s critical.
The impact of artificial intelligence on sustainability
Megan Crouse: Some studies have found that Large natural language processing by artificial intelligence requires a huge amount of energy. What do you think customers are talking about when it comes to AI sustainability, and how does that affect how Dell builds and works with AI?
Alyson Freeman: I don’t get many big language model questions, but I think the world is going to need more data, and we need to do it as sustainably and as efficiently as possible.
Dell’s sustainability wins
Megan Crouse: What are you particularly proud of now in terms of Dell’s sustainability?
Alyson Freeman: Real-time telemetry measurement of the carbon footprint. None of the major competitors do this, and it takes a lot of work behind the scenes to incorporate this into our products. I think that’s one of the things that’s going to make a huge difference because it empowers all of our customers to have knowledge about their carbon footprint that they didn’t have before, and that’s going to make a lot of difference. This is a multiplicative effect.
More news from Dell Technologies World
Legal notice: Dell paid for my airfare, lodging, and meals to Dell Technologies World May 22-25 in Las Vegas..