Green from the Ground Up


For most enterprise, greening up the data center means a healthy dose of virtualization or new power management software. But if you're in a position to either retrofit an existing facility of build one from scratch, green opportunities are much more varied and can produce a whole new level of return.

Once serious construction is on the table, options for saving energy run the gamut from new efficient heating and cooling systems to entirely new architecture designs. And with wide area network optimization and cloud computing on the horizon, even the physical location of the center can be based on such energy-efficient factors as outside air temperature, solar orientation and cool water supplies.

Some of the newest data centers are turning into showcases of where the overall industry will be in a few short years. IBM recently broke ground on a new 6,000 square-foot facility at Syracuse University that features technology like a tri-generation electrical system powered by natural gas and a liquid cooling system that uses heat exhaust to chill water capable of cooling not only the center itself but nearby buildings as well. The center is expected to use half the energy as existing buildings of its size.

Over in the UK, pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline is turning to nearby natural resources to ease its energy overhead. The company has placed a water chiller in the Grand Union Canal that runs by its Brentford facility in order to pull cool water into a series of heat exchangers inside the building. The water is then passed back to the canal over a waterfall, which allows the heat to evaporate naturally and re-oxygenates the water to the benefit of local wildlife. The company estimates it will save about 1.3 million kW per year, saving a cool (sorry) $162,000.

Silicon Valley, of course, isn't about to be left behind when it comes to both environmental and computational innovation. Fortune Data Centers recently powered up its newest facility with an eye toward providing upwards of 7.85 MW of service from 78,000 square feet. The company is focusing on Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), a rating devised by The Green Grid to calculate energy usage in relation to IT processing capability. Fortune says it has achieved a rating of 1.37, which is a far sight better than the 2.0 average of the IT industry at large and even surpasses the EPA's 2011 target of 1.45 for enterprise-class facilities. The center uses a combination of raised flooring, ambient air techniques and high-efficiency cooling systems to cut down on energy consumption.

Even if a new data center is not in your foreseeable future, plenty of efficiency can still be wrung out of existing sites in the course of regular system upgrades. One suggestion making the rounds is modular systems, according to IBM's Steven Sams, who heads up to the company's global site and facilities services efforts. Modular designs, most measuring 500 to 2,500 square feet, not only give you greater scalability and flexibility when meeting capacity needs, they also feature systems like in-row cooling for greater rack utilization and can generally cut upwards of 30 percent off a typical energy bill.

There are those who say that the current "green revolution" is just a fad. With oil prices low (ish), the impetus for saving energy is almost played out. But even if interest in all things green is starting to wane in some circles, it still makes sense to add an energy-efficiency component into your hardware and systems procurement process.

At the very least, you'll save yourself some green (sorry again) in the form of lower energy costs. And you might even gain some consumer loyalty among the growing legions of people who view energy as a long-term issue. For those consumers, corporate credibility goes a long way.