Yahoo's chicken coop design energy-efficient data center, in Lockport, NY, is designed to take advantage of the prevailing winds in keeping the interiors cool. It will use 40 percent less electricity than typical data centers and only one percent of its energy bill on cooling.
Yahoo's chicken coop design energy-efficient data center, in Lockport, NY, is designed to take advantage of the prevailing winds in keeping the interiors cool. It will use 40 percent less electricity than typical data centers and only one percent of its energy bill on cooling.

Building a green data center is a challenging undertaking.  It is also one that is poorly understood and that can fail in many ways. This post goes into some of the deeper level goals that need to be kept in focus if the project is going to be a success.

by Jack Pouchet, Director of Energy Initiatives for Emerson Network Power and host of the Real Efficiency blog on Connect with Jack on Linkedin.

If only I could get paid a dollar for every time I heard someone announce another ‘green’ data center project! I wouldn’t be rich but well on my way to buying that Vespa scooter I’ve been eyeing.

It seems everyone is trying to build a green data center these days. The current rage is to try and out-green the other person’s data center with an even absurdly lower PUE (as if that has anything to do with green) than any sane data center operator ever imagined. Then combine that with half-baked power and cooling schemes that not only bring into question the data center’s ability to be reliable, but totally decimate the idea of operating the data center in an environmentally sustainable and responsible manner. It all makes me wonder when people are going to shout “Stop the insanity”.

Well let’s get this started by understanding that if you really want a green data center start by speaking with your building architect and grab your favorite color wheel, Sherwin Williams exterior paints (or your favorite supplier) will do, and pick the shade of green you like. Because that is about as close as you are ever going to get to ‘green’ with a data center. If you care to debate that just give the nice people at Greenpeace and the Sierra Club a call and they will gladly set you, your board of directors, shareholders, and media straight. Warning – this may be a very serious career limiting move. Exercise extreme caution!

Okay, stepping away from the soapbox now.

It is time we started talking about our ‘green’ data centers in the proper framework of the intentions of the design. For example, if you are chasing an environmentally ‘responsible’ building, with proper land use, outstanding excavation and construction practices, re-use of local materials, an outstanding building envelope, innovation in energy, materials, resource, etc., then speak of the project in terms of pursuing USGBC LEED, BREEAM, or related rating systems and the energy, environmental, and sustainability benefits that will derive.

Now then, if the goal is to achieve the latest and greatest degree of ‘energy efficiency’, please be prepared to speak in terms other than PUE alone. Why? Because a data center with a PUE of 1.0 (think of it as a giant notebook) that consumes 1 MW of energy per hour that is running with all of the IT switched on, but no actual workloads running, is achieving nothing! Zero! Nada! Zip! It is nothing more than a nice piece of very expensive base-load for the local utility. A utility that may very well have a high CO2 source energy composition further reducing the ‘greenness’ of this magically wonderful PUE 1.0 data center.

Meanwhile, not too far away sits a nice, quiet, and basically unknown mission critical data center with a super-sharp IT and facilities team that is running with a PUE of 2.0, consuming only 500 kW of energy per hour and achieving 40% average IT asset utilization with peaks exceeding 60%. Sitting on the same utility grid, they have a significantly lower CUE (carbon usage effectiveness) and WUE (water usage effectiveness) than the wiz-bang data center. With a sensible power and cooling architecture they take advantage of a robust UPS battery plant (no swap-out of cheap, unreliable batteries every 9-months that are destined for landfill material in a third-world country), intelligent cooling controls, variable capacity cooling, and reliable and safe power and cooling eco-modes of operation all without risking a single byte of data. And with a strong IT asset management system coupled with a DCIM package, well developed service schedule, and environmentally sound recycling program achieves a solid MRR (material recycling ratio) score in moving towards a zero waste objective.

So before you kick the chickens to the curb in pursuit of your next ‘green’ adventure get your data center team together to really define your overall objectives in more specific terms. Talk about the building, energy source, water source, embedded energy (in everything including materials, supply chain, and the water used), embedded water (in the energy, most material manufacturing processes, and supply chain), operational efficiency, total energy targets (source & composition as well), system integration and controls (think DCIM), and IT asset use, energy optimization, and life-cycle management. Just one of these poorly executed can negate any perceived ‘greenness’ achieved by the final product.

One last item to consider – any data center that goes off-line is about as un-green as you can get! It becomes a giant money, energy, manpower, and resource pit until it gets back on-line. Factor in all the telecom support, airplane flights, logistics, spares, service, etc. required to bring it back on-line and you may have just wasted five-years worth of ‘greenness” in the process. Design and build it right the first time and the savings will keep on building.

One way data centers can be green is through demand shifting to use more off peak power and in this manner reduce their peak load impact. To read about one idea see our post “Could Ice Help Data Centers Be Green?

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© 2011, Jack Pouchet. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Jack Pouchet (2 Articles)

Jack Pouchet, director of energy initiatives for Emerson Network Power, a business of Emerson (NYSE: EMR) and the global leader in enabling Business-Critical ContinuityTM. He brings more than 20 years related experience in data center operations and efficiency. Mr. Pouchet is an active member of the The Green Grid, a non-profit, open industry consortium of end-users, policy-makers, technology providers, facility architects, and utility companies collaborating to improve the resource efficiency of data centers and business computing ecosystems. Connect with Jack on Linkedin.

  • Bernard Ferret

    The real energy problem with big data center and Internet hosting facilities is that computer resource utilization is anywhere between 15% and 25%, depending on which expert you ask. In the best case while 75% of computing power is idle, power consumption remains the same or maybe a little less if disk drives don’t spin.

    So the problem is an IT technology problem, not so much an energy source problem. A new IT architecture now allows to solve this problem, and significantly increase utilization, and decrease the overall number of computers: virtual private servers, also known as cloud computing. It’s the wave of the future, and many smart companies are moving to cloud computing.