The New Data Center: Green from the Ground Up

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Six Tips for a Greener Data Center

Create better airflow in the data center.

Most conversations surrounding the "green data center" tend to focus on ways to retrofit existing infrastructure so it will cut energy consumption and overall hardware footprints while maintaining or even exceeding current performance levels.

But as more and more data centers head into their 10th, 15th or even 20th year of operation, the need to come up with entirely new designs has grown. In many ways, this is a boon for enterprises as they can now build eco- and budget-friendly centers from the ground up, avoiding the pesky and often expensive hassles of dealing with legacy infrastructure.

Before you start, though, it's a good idea to know what the state-of-the-art facility is capable of, efficiency-wise, and how to plan for the inevitable green developments that will come during the facility's expected lifespan. Jeff Rose, technology strategist for Vantage Data Centers, has ID'd a number of key design requirements for new buildings in his role as both an architect and engineer for infrastructure and control solutions. One of his key objectives these days is vertical scalability, which allows customers to expand operations within a predetermined footprint. A rule of thumb is to plan for a doubling of performance and capacity through techniques like pre-provisioned power and cooling.

In fact, even before you break ground, it's important to conduct some due diligence on the local power infrastructure, said Steve Rosa of the Unique Infrastructure Group. Not only will it have to exceed current and future needs, but it will have to do so at a reasonable cost. So finding out whether the local power plant is fueled by coal, oil, renewables or some combination is a crucial first step.

Once the decision to go ahead has been made, however, there is a wealth of new green solutions, some more extreme than others, according to engineering consultant Mel Beckman. Some, like raising the temperature in the server room or piping excess heat to employee areas, are becoming increasingly common. Others, like conversion to DC power or tapping the oceans or the Earth itself as a heat sink, are still pretty out there.

If you're in a hurry, though, you might not have time to work out a detailed energy and environmental impact plan. No matter, though, because many of the new modular data center designs are placing heavy emphasis on improved construction and operations. Microsoft, for one, has upped the green factor in its latest IT pre-assembled components (ITPAC) models, utilizing free-air cooling and reducing the amount of water, concrete, steel and copper in the design. The company also says it can cut down on packaging- and transport-related costs.

Almost without exception, the greener solution in data center construction will require the higher capital investment. As you would expect, though, the longer that solution is in place, the greater the return on that initial investment.

Keep in mind, however, that much like today's data center, the new green designs will probably see their fair share of retrofits over the years. The goal, then, is not to simply design and build a data center that will be green today, but one that can improve on those factors over time.