Equinix Innovates with Partners to Boost Data Center Sustainability, but a Roadmap Is Needed

C. Drake

Summary Bullets:

  • Equinix announced its first Co-Innovation Facility, where it will work with partners to trial and develop data center sustainability technologies.
  • As a follow-up, Equinix should aim to provide its customers with a deployment roadmap to help them advance their own sustainability plans.

Equinix recently opened its first Co-Innovation Facility (CIF) near Washington, D.C., where it will work with several partners – notably Bloom Energy, ZutaCore, Virtual Power Systems (VPS), and Natron Energy – to trial and develop technologies that enable environmentally sustainable data centers.

Each of these technologies, which include high-density liquid cooling, intelligent power management, and on-site prime power generation, will help Equinix achieve its own sustainability goals, including its target to be climate-neutral across its entire business by 2030.  Equinix operates 229 data centers in 27 countries, providing colocation and other services to enterprise customers.  Once successfully deployed across Equinix’s international network of data centers, these latest technology innovations will also help Equinix support its customers with their sustainability goals.

Equinix’s collaboration with Bloom Energy involves developing and applying the use of modular fuel cell technology, with the goal of reducing the reliance of data centers on electricity utility-dependent uninterrupted power supply (UPS) systems for their energy requirements.  The partners also aim to reduce dependence on highly pollutive diesel generators for backup data center power.  Meanwhile, Equinix’s collaboration with ZutaCore will help advance the application of high-density liquid cooling technology within large colocation data centers, with potential to shrink data center footprints and minimize the use of scarce resources including energy, land, construction, and water.  Finally, Equinix’s collaboration with VPS and Natron Energy will help advance the use of a software-defined approach to data center power management.  Specifically, VPS’s software can help unlock stranded power, therefore improving data center power utilization.

Nevertheless, concerns exist, most notably in relation to Equinix’s roadmap for testing and deploying these new technology innovations.  The absence of a timeframe for these collaboration initiatives makes it hard to know how and when they will be ready to run at scale within Equinix’s own data centers or be adopted more widely by customers and partners.  For Equinix customers, it will therefore be difficult to evaluate and factor in the benefits of these investments to their sustainability strategies.  Meanwhile, Equinix continues to face mounting competition from rival colocation firms, as they expand their use of sustainable technologies.  Fuel cell technology innovators, including Plug Power, Ballard Power Systems, FuelCell Energy, and Bloom Energy, are all targeting data center opportunities, with the latter – one of Equinix’s key CIF partners – also working with Equinix competitors such as Digital Realty and CoreSite.

Other concerns relate to Equinix’s plan to extend these sustainability technologies to edge computing locations.  To date, much of the focus of Equinix and its partners’ innovation has been on testing and deploying these technologies within classic data center environments.  However, the application of high-density cooling and on-site power generation at the edge poses a different set of challenges, particularly because edge locations vary greatly in terms of architecture and size.  Some of these technologies and initiatives could face challenges when being applied at the edge, cost effectively and at scale.

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