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Network Computing

Special Coverage Series


Box Reportedly Agrees To Run Data Centers On Renewable Energy

Cloud file sharing service appears to follow Google and Apple in committing to renewable energy sources for its data centers.

Having previously convinced tech behemoths Apple, Google and Facebook to beef up their reliance on renewable energy sources to power their data centers, Greenpeace has apparently added an up-and-comer to the list: Box.

Andy Broer, senior manager of data center operations for the cloud-based file-sharing service, recently told Data Center Knowledge that the company inked an agreement with Greenpeace in September, promising to eventually run its entire data center infrastructure on renewable energy.

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As part of the agreement, Box will publicly disclose how much power its data centers use and what portion of that power comes from renewable sources. A Box spokesman declined to comment on the Data Center Knowledge report and would not confirm or deny that the company had signed an agreement with Greenpeace.

Nonetheless, Box is a logical target for Greenpeace, which has successfully pressured Apple, Google and Facebook into dramatically increasing the amount of renewable energy that powers their data centers. There is one important distinction, though: While those companies all operate their own data center, Box still relies on relationships with co-location providers such as Equinix.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, a research director with 451 Research, said via email that there are multiple reasons -- of both the bottom-line and image-building variety -- for Box to commit to renewable energy.

“This sort of approach not only gives them some eco-credibility, it also justifies charging a bit more than the rest,” Pelz-Sharpe said. Plus, he added, “As they head toward an IPO in the next 12 to 18 months, it’s the sort of thing that helps keep them separated from the pack.”

[Read about how Seattle city officials want to recycle waste heat from nearby data centers to provide sustainable heat and hot water to buildings in "Seattle's Plan To Warm City With Data Center Waste Heat."]

It’s also increasingly important for a company with a fast-growing data center footprint. Broer told Data Center Knowledge that the company is adding users so fast that he had to add new data center cages in the spring and summer, and had plans to add another one this fall.

Of course, Box may find that its road to relying exclusively on renewable energy is bumpier than expected. Apple, for one, has had to invest plenty to ensure its data center facilities are powered 100 percent by renewable energy. For instance, it had to double the size of the largest privately owned solar array in the U.S., adjacent to its data center facility in Maiden, North Carolina.

And for all of Google’s efforts to use renewable energy -- from purchasing renewable energy from wind farms to entering into Power Purchase Agreements with clean energy providers -- the company says it’s still only able to power 34 percent of its operations with renewable energy. And while the company is working to power its data centers 100 percent with renewable energy, it’s still got a long way to go.

“Unfortunately, the places with the best renewable power potential are generally not the same places where a data center can most efficiently and reliably serve its users,” the company said on a page of its website devoted to renewable energy use. “While our data centers operate 24/7, most renewable energy sources don’t -- yet.”

Even so, Google has a growing reputation is an environmentally conscious company, which helps it with everything from marketing to recruiting. With an IPO on its horizon, having a green moniker can only help Box make itself attractive to more customers -- and investors.

“Frankly, you need differentiators," Pelz-Sharpe said.



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