Better data handling is key to reducing energy consumption – NTT

While the amount of data generated is growing constantly, companies admit up to 60% of their data goes unused. This underscores the need for businesses to better understand their needs and improve data handling practices.

Tereza Krásová, Associate Editor

June 10, 2024

4 Min Read
Network panel switch and cables in a data center.
(Source: PIOTR PIATROUSKI/Alamy Stock Photo)

The volume of data people and companies generate never ceases to grow, and with it the amount of energy needed to sustain it. But as this trend is likely to continue while the climate gets more volatile due to global warming, it is crucial to reduce the environmental impact of data. 

Much like with an overflowing closet, perhaps the first step is to establish what we actually want and need to keep. A report from Omdia (a sister company of Light Reading), created in partnership with NTT Data and Net App, focused on the environmental cost of data and found that companies report about 60% of the data they store is unused. 

One thing that the vast amount of data has given the world is, arguably, the need to learn a new pre-byte prefix, with the study pointing to a Statista figure saying 7 zettabytes – or 7 trillion gigabytes, in more pedestrian terms – of data was generated worldwide in 2022. By 2025, this will go to up 180 zettabytes. This perhaps underscores why an energy efficient approach is important.

As stated earlier, the study points out that three-quarters of respondents report they store an average of up to 60% unused data. Identifying and removing unused and unneeded data therefore seems like one obvious way in which companies can be more efficient.

During an interview, Rika Nakazawa, group vice president for connected industry and head of sustainability for Americas at NTT DATA, also told Light Reading that one possible solution is tagging the data to indicate an expiration, at which point they can be deleted.

Understanding data

Asked how unused data was defined for the purposes of the study, Nakazawa admitted there wasn't a firm definition used as part of the survey. However, she acknowledged there may be some nuances in the data included in that category, in a way that's similar to the analogue world. 

"I just went through my clothes, and I'm like, 'will I wear this again?' I haven't worn it in three years. But I might wear it again, because it might become fashionable again, or am I going to regret throwing this away, or recycling it, rather," she said. 

But identifying what to keep is only the beginning. When it comes to managing data, Nakazawa says part of limiting its environmental footprint is understanding the fundamentals of data, like what it's used for and where the value is. 

Another important aspect, she says, is ensuring it's accessible. If it doesn’t need to be located on premises, it may be preferable to offload it to the cloud, where "economies of scale" can be created around CO2.

She noted that hyperscalers can often store data in a more energy-efficient way than what companies can achieve on-site.

She added: "I think it's about figuring out how to understand the kind of data that's dynamic, that you need now, or what are the things that you think you might need, but is there a more efficient way to be able to store it, to manage it?" 

That type of prioritization requires a company to have a clear idea of what it wants to achieve, and storing the needed data accordingly, says Nakazawa. 

For NTT, another part of the picture is finding a more sustainable way to transport data. Nakazawa highlighted the company's Innovative Optical and Wireless Network (IOWN) and the all-photonic network, a project that seeks to harness photonic-based technology to enhance energy efficiency and transmission capacity of data handling, spanning all aspects, from the network to terminals.

More data incoming

But she also acknowledged that energy consumption isn't the only area in which data sustainability can be improved. She also notes that the use of water for cooling is becoming problematic in areas where it is scarce. This resonates with a recent NGMN study, which argued zero water use should be a long-term goal for data centers.

Nakazawa points out that the problem will only get more pressing, given there are "parts of the world that are still getting more and more digitalized," saying "I think it's about finding the way to create that choreography between having good data hygiene on the one side, and then on the other side knowing the inevitability of just more and more data coming forward."

While she acknowledges that generative AI will also lead to more data traffic, she adds "I'm of the mind that AI is actually going to help us be more efficient with our energy."

Later in the conversation she pointed to the 3D mapping technology AW3D, co-developed by NTT, which the company is currently in the process of enhancing to be able to use it in more contexts. This could be a digital map of a site like a city or a mine, where additional data such as IoT or historical data about natural disasters could be overlaid to run stimulations about the impact of natural disasters.

About the Author(s)

Tereza Krásová

Associate Editor, Light Reading

Associate Editor, Light Reading

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