Sustainable Business News (SBIZ)
c/o Squall Inc.
P.O. Box 1484, Stn. B
Ottawa, Ontario, K1P 5P6
Canada: 1-855-569-6300

ABB, Zoho strive to make data centres more energy efficient

Facilities currently account for up to 1.3% of world's energy consumption

ABB Canada Headquarters in Montreal. (Courtesy ABB)
ABB Canada Headquarters in Montreal. (Courtesy ABB)

Rarely does the public ever hear about data centres. Yet these anonymous, seldom-seen data storage and processing facilities provide the critical infrastructure underlying the explosive growth of social media, e-commerce, mobile communication networks and streaming services. 

One inevitable byproduct of the digital revolution has been the increase in the demand for data storage and processing that takes place across the world's approximately 11,000 data centres.

An even lesser-known consequence of the data explosion is the associated rise in energy consumption required to operate data centres, which currently account for an estimated one to 1.3 per cent of global electricity consumption.

This figure is destined to increase in coming years as the rapid adoption of artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data analytics and the rollout of 5G networks will require an expansion in data centre capacity to accommodate this new wave of technological progress.

ABB, a global tech leader in electrification, automation and digitalization, is working toward not only satisfying the demand for data, but also making data centres more energy efficient and sustainable.

"It is crucial that our industry improves its energy efficiency in order to expand sustainably," Shahrukh Ashhar, segment leader of data centre solutions at ABB Canada, told Sustainable Biz Canada. "Data centres are the backbone of the digital industry . . . we cannot do anything without data and data consumption."

ABB sustainability measures

ABB has introduced sophisticated uninterrupted power supply (UPS) systems that provide continuous and reliable power of up to 24 kilovolts for mission-critical facilities. This new tech delivers at 98 per cent efficiency, an improvement over previous levels of 92 per cent.

Further, the technology protects loads while reducing downtime and constitutes an efficient energy solution for data centres that reduces the usual 20 per cent power distribution losses to as little as five per cent.

"What we are focusing on at the moment is providing sustainable solutions by means of state-of-the-art electrification technology to our customers," Ashhar said. "On top of that, with respect to digitalization, ABB is focusing on every sector to help the new industrial revolution, which is 4.0 until now and expected to be transforming into industry 5.0 altogether."

ABB is also introducing advanced energy management and monitoring systems to reduce energy and HVAC costs for equipment cooling at its data centres. These include HVAC energy monitoring and asset monitoring to remotely collect data including power usage effectiveness, input and output power and peak power.

Canada is world's fifth-largest data centre host

One competitive advantage Canada offers is a relative abundance of renewable energy. As companies ramp up efforts to lower their carbon footprint, Canada stands out as a highly attractive market. 

In a report Ashhar prepared, he offers a glowing assessment of Canada's prospects as an important world data centre hub.

"Canadian data centres consume about one per cent of the total electricity used in Canada yearly. The country’s abundant renewable power sources are not just a competitive advantage for its minimal carbon footprint. They are also attractive for their competitive energy prices and frigid weather conditions. 

"The cold climate allows for naturally free cooling of large infrastructure with a limited investment for part of the year due to cool outdoor temperatures. As a result, Canada places fifth in the world in hosting data centres and estimates that data centre investment will grow to $5.48 billion by 2028."

Zoho Canada to the fore

Chandrashekar LSP, managing director of Zoho Canada. (Courtesy Zoho Canada)
Chandrashekar LSP, managing director of Zoho Canada. (Courtesy Zoho Canada)

Another company making inroads into Canada's data centre ecosystem is Zoho Canada, a software as a service company operating out of the historic Cotton Mill building in Cornwall, Ont.

Zoho Canada launched its first two data centres in Montreal and Toronto in November. The data storage and processing facilities are targeted toward customers who insist on storing and managing their data in Canada to satisfy regulatory requirements and privacy concerns.

According to Chandrashekar LSP, managing director of Zoho Canada who also bills himself as a "Zoho evangelist," data sovereignty is an area of increasing concern to Canadian companies unwilling to have their data stored outside Canada, whether at Zoho's data centres in India or elsewhere around the globe.

Zoho entered the software-as-a-service sector in 2004 and opened its Canadian office in November 2021.

The company is a fully vertically integrated data centre and storage provider which owns and operates its facilities to control costs and offer services at a reduced price. 

Not only has Zoho Canada built its data centres to function at high energy efficiency, the company is also extending its sustainability strategy to encompass investments in renewable energy sources such as solar farms and autonomous battery-operated farm vehicles. 

"Zoho is already net negative globally and we will continue down that path," Chandrashekar told Sustainable Biz Canada.

"We are actually working on building autonomous, battery-operated farm vehicles in partnership with Boson Motors, a U.S. startup that is building unmanned vehicles to be operated on farms and intended mainly for agricultural purposes. That represents an enormous investment that we have made when it comes to sustainability.

Zoho Canada is also marketing its proprietary Internet of Things (IoT) software to companies that want to improve the energy efficiency of their plants, which Zoho also uses to manage its own facilities worldwide.

"Our IoT infrastructure platform enables companies to monitor their batteries as well as their HVAC systems, temperature and lighting systems. wastewater systems, treatment plants and every aspect of their buildings and facilities," Chandrashekar said.

Sustainability at Zoho Canada's Cornwall head office

One management philosophy Zoho has brought to its Canadian operations is the hiring and training of staff based in Cornwall. This adds a human dimension to the notion of sustainability that extends across Zoho's worldwide operations.

"The way (Zoho) sets up our offices worldwide is that we look for small towns and smaller communities to keep talent within those communities. At our Canadian headquarters in Cornwall, I have been hiring people mainly from the local community and out of our workforce of 30 people, 22 are born and raised in Cornwall.

"In some cases, people were willing to move to Cornwall to have a better standard of living. So we are advancing this whole notion, this whole model of business where everything is sustainable. We keep people closer to their communities so that they can invest back into their communities," Chandrashekar said.

Industry Events