Data centers are the backbone of digitization. Because without high-performance data centers, the goals of efficient and future-oriented digitization of business, education and public administration can hardly be achieved. Since computing and storage capacity is increasing rapidly in the private and commercial context in Germany, data centers are developing more and more dynamically. There are currently more than 50,000 such interfaces - including 3,000 very large data centers. The trend is still increasing. The number is expected to increase by more than 20 percent in the period from 2021 to 2025. On the other hand, this also means that the energy consumption for such centers will continue to rise. However, the coalition agreement of the traffic light government stipulated that the potential of digitization must be used for more sustainability. Data centers in Germany should therefore be climate-neutral by 2027 and must provide the relevant proof of this. The operators are therefore faced with major challenges. The "SDC Sustainable Data Center" certification, as offered by TÜV Rheinland, can help here.

Hardly any other area is developing as rapidly as digitization, as modern and fast data processing and storage are found in all areas of business life and in the private sphere. However, the existing data center infrastructure is increasingly reaching its limits, so that an expansion is unavoidable due to the increased demand. However, this results in an increased energy requirement. This increase is to be expected in the future, despite the fact that the number of workloads that data centers can handle has already quintupled since 2010. “You have to look at the performance of data centers from two sides. Although they are extremely energy-intensive, they help to achieve sustainability goals in other areas," explains Olaf Seiche, authorized signatory at TÜV Rheinland. Together with the Cologne-based company High Knowledge, TÜV Rheinland has developed the sustainability certification for data centers "SDC Sustainable Data Center" in order to be able to confirm data centers' sustainable operation.

"A large number of digital applications run in data centers, which create the necessary conditions for the sustainability goals to be implemented in many other areas," emphasizes Harry Knopf, Managing Director of High Knowledge. As an innovative solution developer, the company has specialized primarily in sustainable data center planning with the goal of climate neutrality. For example, certain running applications enable savings in energy and greenhouse gas emissions in almost all areas of life and work. This supports resource-saving industrialization and promotes innovation. Data centers are therefore an essential part of a resilient infrastructure.

Uniform Basis for a Certification

Data centers are therefore not only the pillars of digitization, but also a driving force behind the economy and its sustainability. "In order to do justice to the important position of data centers, it is essential to operate and build them in an energy-efficient and climate-friendly manner," says Plettner. So it should be analyzed in advance what potential there is for increasing efficiency. It is also important to produce the electricity for the operation of data centers in as climate-friendly a manner as possible. The requirements for climate-neutral operation must therefore be specified in a transparent and comprehensible manner. However, this requires suitable framework conditions. "Because only with an efficient, climate-friendly, reliable and high-performance data center infrastructure can the competitiveness of the European economy be strengthened and sustainability and climate protection goals achieved at the same time," Plettner also emphasizes.

In Germany, for example, data center operators support the demand for uniform standards for sustainability and energy efficiency. However, there is still no uniform basis. For this reason, 99 percent of German data centers do not have the appropriate certification - although in some places they already work in a sustainable and climate-efficient manner. The reason for this is that up to now there has been no modern, targeted certification option geared not to exclusion but to sustainable optimization.

Contribution to Sustainable Development Through Certification

Data centers are increasingly becoming the focus of public interest when it comes to environmental friendliness and sustainability in the IT industry. Not only the power consumption is an issue here, but also the sensible use of the waste heat, which is all too often released into the atmosphere without having any effect, instead of transferring it into a water cycle and making the heated water usable for heating systems such as district heating networks. In order to make this potential visible in the future, TÜV Rheinland now offers the “Sustainable Data Center” certification. 

Certification is a comprehensive opportunity for companies and the public sector to have their data centers meet high standards in terms of energy efficiency, resource conservation and CO₂ emissions. "This certificate is an important building block for the sustainable development of the data center industry," emphasizes Plettner. "Because it confirms that companies are meeting the challenges of digital transformation and at the same time dealing responsibly with limited resources." The certification also takes a further step towards sustainability. Because this also encourages other companies to adapt to the same standards and thus also make a major contribution to a development towards climate neutrality.

Structured and Plannable

However, there is still a long way to go: by 2027, all data centers in Germany must be operated in a sustainable and climate-neutral manner. For most operators, this is a Herculean task, because many of them do not know what their current situation is. "That's why data centers and the IT infrastructure need precise knowledge of their status quo in terms of sustainability and energy efficiency," says Plettner. This is the only way operators can see what they need to do in relation to compliance with the new Energy Efficiency Act (EnEfG) and the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act (LkSG) or whether they already meet all the criteria. Furthermore, there are additional savings potentials, which are of immense economic importance for the operator, especially in times of rising energy costs.

The certificate examination is structured and plannable for the data center operator. In an initial meeting, the test process is determined and individual customer requests that go beyond the standard are also taken into account. During the on-site audit, all areas are examined and the employees included based on the criteria of the TÜV Rheinland "Sustainable Data Center" standard.

The exam is divided into five areas. In general, the first part takes a closer look at the location. Questions such as "Is a sustainability strategy (environmental, social and governance) being implemented?" are answered and the construction and construction as well as aspects of soil and biodiversity of the data center are examined.

Evaluation and Certification in Detail 

A second part examines information and communication technology. Management systems and hardware effectiveness as well as energy efficiency of individual IT components and applications are examined here. The TÜV auditors also analyze the recording and evaluation of the IT load (ITEUSEV). The third part deals with electrical and air conditioning technology. This includes aspects such as the current balance of power, the design of the cooling technology and its efficiency and the energy distribution. In the area of energy and waste heat, the total energy requirement and renewable energies are considered. The topic of "energy saving and reuse of the supplied energy" is another part of the investigation - just like the potential of the waste heat and its use. The fifth checkpoint then focuses on the location and water use, climate protection and CO₂ management, as well as quality and process management.

“Finally, the results are evaluated in detail. In addition, the operator receives a sustainability pass with an overview of the status quo and the fields of action," says Plettner. A certificate is then issued for the data center by TÜV Rheinland, which can also be used for marketing and indoor and outdoor advertising. "Further audits can then follow later, for example to check the success of the measures or to demonstrate continuous improvement," adds High Knowledge Managing Director Knopf.

Achieve Sustainable Foals With Certification

Data Centers have a variety of interlocking security systems. Fire alarm systems with early fire detection, for example, ensure rapid detection of fires and thus enable timely intervention before major damage occurs. Fire extinguishing systems prevent fires from starting or spreading. Intrusion alarm systems and electronic access controls ensure that the often-sensitive data in Data Centers is optimally protected.

The parts and components listed here represent only the tip of the iceberg. It requires professional planning to coordinate all requirements and properties. Data centers are the engine of digitization; their number will increase more and more in the near future due to increasing computing and storage power. There are already over 50,000 data centers in Germany, including 3,000 large centers. However, a lot still needs to be done to improve performance in terms of sustainability and climate neutrality. The certification from TÜV Rheinland - designed in cooperation with High Knowledge from Cologne - is an important step in order to achieve these goals, to receive evidence of them and to recognize today what still needs to be done.

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