Data centers are integral to modern data management, housing the infrastructure necessary for safe storage and processing of vast amounts of data. However, traditional data centers consume substantial amounts of electricity and contribute to environmental emissions due to their energy-intensive operations. Emerging technologies offer promising solutions to address these challenges, revolutionising the landscape of data management and sustainability.

Traditional Data Centers and Their Challenges

Data centers require extensive power supply cooling systems, backup power, and sophisticated control systems to ensure uninterrupted operations and optimise performance. The exponential growth in data volume has led to a significant increase in electricity consumption by data centers, posing environmental challenges and sustainability concerns. Recent reports highlight the alarming rise in energy consumption by data centers, with projections indicating a doubling of electricity usage by 2026,  reaching over 1,000TWh according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) report. For reference a single terrawatt-hour (TWH) is a value that is large enough to address the annual electricity requirements for entire countries, like Fiji and Barbados.

Statistics on Data Centers

  • In the US, data centers are expected to consume 260TWh by 2026, representing six percent of all power use across the country.
  • Ireland’s data centers could account for 32 percent of all power consumption by 2026, compared to 17 percent in 2022, due to a high number of new builds planned.
  • The European Union’s energy efficiency directive mandates emissions reports for data centers larger than 500kW, highlighting the growing regulatory focus on sustainability in data management.
  • Data center operators are investing in more efficient cooling and heat reuse technologies to address energy consumption concerns and promote sustainability.

EO and Data Centers

Data centers play a crucial role in Earth Observation (EO) by managing the vast amounts of data generated by satellites and other sensors. They are responsible for the storage, processing, and distribution of this data, making it accessible for various applications. Data centers handle the initial reception of raw data, its transformation into usable formats, and its dissemination to researchers and decision-makers.

The total dataset size of Earth Observation images is nearing 1 exabyte! Storing this volume of data results in annual CO2 equivalent emissions exceeding 4,000 tonnes per year. Moreover, this data is replicated across nearly 200 data centers worldwide and is subsequently processed by thousands of entities globally. However, the majority of this data is essentially redundant. Approximately 50% of it comprises clouds, and over 99% of ocean imaging depicts merely empty water, lacking any interest.

Sustainable Solutions Through Edge AI and Onboard Processing

The emergence of Edge AI and onboard processing technologies presents transformative solutions to mitigate the environmental impact of traditional data centers. These technologies enable data processing to be performed directly on satellites, eliminating the need for extensive data storage and processing infrastructure on Earth. For example, Ubotica’s CogniSAT-6 solution processes data onboard, compresses files, and transmits them directly to users, bypassing the need for traditional data centers. By leveraging Edge AI and onboard processing, companies can reduce electricity consumption, minimise environmental footprint, and enhance data management efficiency.

The European Commission’s ASCEND program explores the feasibility of deploying data centers in Earth orbit, offering a visionary approach to sustainable data management and net-zero emissions.

The Promise of Sustainable Data Management

Sustainable data management practices, including Edge AI and onboard processing, offer significant benefits beyond environmental conservation. These solutions enhance data security, reduce latency, and optimise resource utilisation, improving overall operational efficiency. With the increasing focus on environmental sustainability and corporate responsibility, adopting sustainable data management practices becomes imperative for organisations worldwide. Legislation and regulatory initiatives aimed at curbing energy consumption and promoting sustainability in data management are gaining traction, driving industry-wide efforts towards greener practices. As data volumes continue to grow exponentially, embracing sustainable solutions will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of data management and mitigating environmental impact.