The Benefits of Partnering with a Sustainable Data Center
By: Ross Warrington on August 13, 2020
Sustainability has become a core business requirement for many organizations in the 21st century. This is especially true when it comes to power-hungry technology infrastructure. Finding a sustainable data center is often quite high on the list of requirements businesses have when they’re looking for a colocation partner.
Data Center Power Usage and Sustainability
Data centers consume a great deal of power to keep servers and their associated IT infrastructure up and running. According to some estimates, data centers operating in the US alone used over 90 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2017, while data centers globally consumed about three percent of all electricity generated on the planet. With more power-hungry hyperscale facilities being built every year to meet networking and cloud computing demands, data centers will continue to demand massive amounts of energy in the future. Considering that fossil fuels are still used to meet 80 percent of the world’s energy needs, finding more sustainable solutions will be essential if data centers are going to remain viable.
That’s because sustainability is an incredibly important factor for many organizations when they’re assessing potential partners. There is increasing public pressure on companies to embrace sustainable energy practices and to position themselves as purpose-driven organizations with a commitment to doing good in the world. Successful businesses don’t want to associate their brand with vendors and other partners who have a poor reputation when it comes to sustainability.
What is Power Usage Effectiveness?
A data center’s energy efficiency is measured by a score called power usage effectiveness (PUE). When a facility has a high PUE score, it is using more energy than should be necessary to meet the demands of its infrastructure and IT equipment. A low PUE scores indicate that the data center’s energy utilization is much closer to its power requirements. In other words, the higher the score, the less efficient the data center in terms of power management.
Calculating PUE is very simple. Divide the data center’s total power consumption by its total IT-related energy needs (including cooling infrastructure and environmental systems). A perfect score of 1.0 would only be possible if every kW of power the facility consumed was utilized by IT equipment. The Uptime Institute began tracking industry-wide PUE in 2007. At that time, the average data center had a PUE of 2.5, but the following decade saw significant improvements in performance and efficiency. In 2019, the industry’s average PUE had fallen to 1.67 (although this was up from a record 1.58 score in 2018).
The reason PUE matters is because it indicates how much of a commitment a data center has made to sustainability. For organizations looking to do business with partners who care about reducing their carbon footprint and using renewable energy whenever possible, a colocation facility with a low PUE score will be much more attractive than one that consumes more energy than it should have to.
Innovations in Data Center Cooling Design
One of the biggest sources of innovation for data center sustainability has been advancements in cooling technology. In fact, much of a data center’s energy costs are connected to its cooling infrastructure, which must often be substantial to keep high-density servers from overheating. For many years, facilities simply added more cooling equipment to maintain an optimal data floor environment, but there is an inherent inefficiency to this approach. While placing another HVAC system on the roof might help to cool a few more server racks, it also increases the overall power requirements of the facility. And for some high-performance servers, existing cooling technology simply wasn’t capable of delivering enough cold air to ensure reliable performance.
That’s why data centers with an eye toward efficiency and sustainability have turned to exciting new technologies like liquid cooling calibrated vector cooling (CVC), direct-to-chip liquid cooling, and evaporative cooling. They’ve also taken to designing facilities that take advantage of their environment to improve efficiency, utilizing the outside air to provide cooling.
Building a Green Data Center Future
Another way data centers have made a commitment to minimize their carbon footprint and bring cooling costs under control has been to invest in renewable energy whenever possible. While facilities that generate green power onsite in the form of solar panels and fuel cells typically make all the headlines, the majority of data centers embrace green power through the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), which allow them to purchase transferable “credits” of green energy. This market-based system has been particularly effective for facilities that don’t have ready access to renewable energy sources.
In areas where substantial renewable energy production is available, power purchase agreements (PPAs) have made it possible for data centers to contract with green power suppliers to meet their energy needs. Major tech companies with hyperscale data centers have made substantial investments in this form of renewable energy. Google, for instance, recently struck a deal to purchase the output of 1.6 million solar panels (about 413 megawatts) to power two of its data centers in the southeastern US.
Embrace Sustainable Colocation with vXchnge
One of the best steps any company can take when it comes to energy efficiency is to migrate their IT equipment out of poorly optimized on-premises facilities and into a state-of-the-art colocation data center. With multiple facilities located in key growth markets around the US, vXchnge colocation services can help you begin your journey toward a more sustainable future thanks to our efficient data center environment. In addition to leveraging innovative cooling technology and AI/machine learning-powered infrastructure, we also invest in RECs to help promote the production of sustainable energy across multiple data center markets.
Ross is a Regional Vice President, Operations at vXchnge and is responsible for managing all 14 data center locations. With more than 30 years of experience, Ross has managed data center construction, engineering, repair and maintenance, leading him to the emerging business of colocation.
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