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Why U.S. Data Centers Struggle with Sustainability, And How Technology Partners Can Help

June 15, 2023 by Joe Panettieri

U.S. businesses want to further decarbonize their data centers, but they'll need education across the c-suite and technology partner guidance to do so, according to a research report from Hitachi Vantara.

Mark Ablett, digital infrastructure president, Hitachi Vantara

The report, titled State of Data Infrastructure Sustainability, revealed major disconnects between sustainability goals and outcomes to date. The research also revealed disconnects and differing views among c-suite members.

Indeed, executives across the C-Suite are not fully aware of the importance of data center modernization to achieve their overall sustainability goals, Hitachi Vantara said. Among the proof points:

  • 58% of CEOs and Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) say an eco-friendly data center is one of the most effective ways to reduce their company’s carbon footprint;
  • 50% of Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) agree with that statement.
  • However, only 14% of CFOs and 31% of Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) agreed.

“Broadly speaking, these disparities underscore the need for greater knowledge sharing and involvement of company leadership across the C-suite," according to Mark Ablett, digital infrastructure president at Hitachi Vantara.

U.S. Data Center Sustainability: Green IT Opportunities, Challenges for Technology Partners

Amid that backdrop, third-party technology partners -- including IT consultants and IT Service Providers -- can potentially educate the C-suite and win green IT business. And the C-Suite may be receptive to such education: Indeed, 42% of respondents said they need third-party help to achieve eco-friendly data centers.

At first glance, that's all good news for technology partners who have network, storage, compute, power management and ESG expertise. But there's also some bad news here: When it comes to sustainability expertise, U.S.-based partners trail their counterparts in Europe and Asia-Pacific, according to separate research from Canalys.

Still, the opportunities are clear for U.S. technology partners that understand green data centers. Among the proof points from Hitachi Ventara's research:

  • 60% said that creating an eco-friendly data center was a top priority for the organization.
  • However, 40% organizations said they lacked a sustainability strategy and implementation plan.
  • Even worse, 80% said that their data center carbon footprint had either stayed the same or increased in the past two years; less than two in five (19%) said it decreased at all, with only 2% saying it decreased more than 10%.
  • Also of concern, 51% expect the carbon footprint of their data center will either stay the same or increase over the next two years; only 12% expect it to decrease more than 10%.
  • Key challenges include keeping up with regulations (45%) and inadequate access to critical sustainability data (38%), among other challenge areas.

In a prepared statement about the Hitachi Vantara research findings, Ablett added: “To get to net-zero, firms must establish a concrete strategy and implementation plan, with leadership buy-in, that takes a data-driven approach to emissions across the entire IT estate, including edge, on-prem, and off-prem. As the survey found, too many companies are allowing their strategies to be dictated by regulation, which can be a hinderance because it focuses on the needs of the day instead of the business case for sustainable operations. However, sustainability efforts can lower energy costs, save storage space, and help streamline operations and data management for greater productivity.”

More Background: Research Findings and Hitachi Vantara

The survey, commissioned by Hitachi Vantara, involved ThoughtLab Research interviewing 1,000 respondents globally -- including 250 participants in the United States. The participants represent a range of industries including financial services, manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, and public sector. Nearly all of the respondents (96%) are from companies with 1,000 or more employees.

Hitachi Vantara, based in Santa Clara, California, has nearly 13,000 employees listed on LinkedIn as of June 2023. The company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd., "guides our customers from what’s now to what’s next by solving their digital challenges." Hitachi Vantara's clientele includes more than 80% of the Fortune 100, the company says. Key areas of expertise include sustainable storage solutions and associated data optimization capabilities.

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