Cisco takes major steps toward making data centres more energy efficient

Earlier this week, Cisco chief executive officer (CEO) Chuck Robbins talked about the importance of sustainability during a keynote speech at Cisco Live! 2023. In fact, much has happened since the company announced, in September 2021, that it was committing to net- zero greenhouse gas emission by 2040, “10 years ahead of when climate scientists say the planet must reach net zero to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

Since then, there have been a multitude of announcements and partner initiatives, and one important hire, namely Mary de Wysocki, who last year was named the company’s first chief sustainability officer and who in a blog posted shortly after her appointment wrote that “solving big problems requires thinking big and setting goals that seem audacious.

“When we set our net-zero goal, we aimed high. To support our goal, we know we need to innovate with passion and trust science. The science behind achieving net zero and the journey it will take to achieve it are both complex and evolving. But the reason for doing it is simple: our future depends on it.”

At Cisco Live, Denise Lee, vice president of engineering with the company’s sustainability office, said in a keynote speech, “we’re here to talk about helping you get to your journey to net zero. And it’s the journey we’re all on together.

“If I were to tell you, you could help your company, increase overall employee satisfaction, and just make your people happier at work, increase your overall profits, and actually help the planet, which would you choose? If I were to tell you, you can do all of those with sustainability and the data is coming back showing that across the board, companies that are making the commitment to sustainability are realizing benefits and gains across the board. (These include) more access to capital, cheaper access to capital, as well as employee satisfaction and higher retention rates.”

Lee said that while all that “sounds pretty good, and a lot of companies are making their commitment to becoming a net-zero organization, Accenture found in a study that 93 per cent of them are on track to fail, because they don’t have the concrete plans to back it up.”

The study she referenced, which was released last November, noted that “growing energy price inflation and supply insecurity is pushing commitments out of reach, even as more companies in every region are setting clear and publicly visible decarbonization goals, with a record rise in the number of corporate targets validated by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) this year alone.

Authors of the document state that a net-zero transition must include every part of the business, and decarbonization cannot be done without a combination of digital and physical technology to make sense of carbon data and act on it with confidence.

“Now is perhaps a tougher time to be a CEO than any stage in the recent past, in particular, attempting to square the circle between sustainability commitments, inflationary and recessionary pressures and the need to deliver both shareholder and stakeholder value,” said Peter Lacy, Accenture’s global sustainability services lead and chief responsibility officer.

A key starting point, said Lee, revolves around energy management offerings for data centres.

“Data centres continue to be a huge consumer of electricity; we think about over two per cent of the world’s global electricity – more than many countries in the world – they are consuming today. When you add cryptocurrency, you add AI, that number is going to exponentially grow.”

According to a Cisco fact sheet, capturing insights into their functions and efficiency is a critical first step. To that end, this week a major announcement centred around Nexus Dashboard, which the company described as an intuitive interface for cloud and data centre networks.

“By integrating additional capabilities from Cisco API integration partners Panduit and Vertiv, Nexus Dashboard will supply a wide range of insights related to energy usage and sustainability,” it said.

“These will include real-time and historical insights into the energy consumption, energy costs, and greenhouse-gas emissions of Cisco Nexus switches and other IT equipment in the data centre. It will also monitor the ambient temperature of (them) to help improve cooling efficiency, while keeping an eye on any additional servers, switches, storage, etc. that are connected to Panduit and Vertiv.”

Also participating in the Lee keynote was Jeremy Foster, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco Compute, who said, “a lot of companies are looking at their data centre infrastructure as a great way to start kicking off those big ESG (environmental, social and governance) initiatives.

“It’s just simply where we use a ton of power. Computing drives a lot of that, cooling drives a lot of that, networking drives a lot of that.”

Foster wrote in a recent post on LinkedIn that “IT is under pressure to operate more sustainably as ESG becomes a high priority for their companies. With data centres using more than 50 times the energy of typical commercial office buildings, they are a natural target for energy-saving initiatives.”

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Paul Barker
Paul Barker
Paul Barker is the founder of PBC Communications, an independent writing firm that specializes in freelance journalism. He has extensive experience as a reporter, feature writer and editor and has been covering technology-related issues for more than 30 years.

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