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How can organisations adapt their data centre operations to become more eco-friendly?

How can organisations adapt their data centre operations to become more eco-friendly?

Data CentresFeaturesGreen TechnologyTop Stories

Kao Data has excelled at the Datacloud Global Awards, winning the ‘Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility’ category, against entries from around the world.

This is a major achievement for Kao Data and demonstrates its commitment to principles of responsible business capability, customer service and, crucially, its environmental sustainability.

The judges highlighted the selection of location and regional climate considerations in the development of the UK’s first 100% free-cooling data centre.

We spoke to Gerard Thibault, CTO, Kao Data, to find out more about the company’s work, while three industry experts tackle this month’s burning question.  

Achieving ‘Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility’ at Datacloud 2019 underlines a long-standing commitment and demonstrates the effectiveness of Kao Data’s business processes and responsibility to improve operational performance, provide increased assurance and reduce the environmental impact of the data centre.

From the outset, the team at Kao Data considered sustainability, ecological impact and energy efficiency as demonstrated by the achievement of BREEAM ‘Excellent’ award for DC1, part of the four-building, 35MW IT power capacity campus.

Both design and construction phases of the project reviewed by the BRE with their ‘Energy Assessment Method’, confirmed the benefits of the 1.2 ultra-low PUE achieved by the Technology Suite ‘free cooling’ system.

Utilising a system with no mechanical refrigeration eliminates any global warming potential (GWP) gases, years before the F-gas regulations bans their use.

Highly efficiently engineered, the complexity of both mechanical and electrical infrastructure is reduced, along with the power capacity of the electrical distribution and back-up power generation.

This drives a reduction in material usage and potential pollution in emergency power failure scenarios.

Coupled with the climate in the geographical location, Kao Data can meet the requirements of ASHRAE TC 9.9 ‘recommended’ environmental conditions throughout the year even at the extremes and into the future. 

Operating at the ‘allowable’ envelope brings further reductions in energy consumption and even without the benefit of having secured a 100% renewable energy power contract with EDF (operating with carbon neutrality), the overall carbon footprint of the data centre is reduced.

As a strategic business opportunity, the design reflects the ’best practices’ that Open Compute Project endorses, which allowed Kao Data to be the first UK OCP-Ready facility.

Operating at the ASHRAE ‘allowable’ range is an ‘optimum’ requirement of the self-assessment protocol, in which Kao Data DC1 scored 75% at ‘optimal’ or above, by including gaseous contaminant monitoring.

Adoption of OCP principles produces a hyperscale inspired design, harnessing the largest growth sector of the data centre market, a Kao Data target customer group.

The Kao Data London One has a commitment to creating a more sustainability aware industry, which results in a highly scalable, ultra-efficient, regulation complaint and customer focused site.

We hear from a number of experts who offer their opinions on the subject.

Dr Stu Redshaw, Founder and Chief Technology Officer, EkkoSense

2019 has seen a renewed focus on climate issues, with Extinction Rebellion protests in London successfully disrupting the capital and Theresa May committing the UK to becoming the first G7 nation to make zero net emissions a legislated goal.

Climate is now dominating the social, political and corporate agenda, and demanding long-term commitments are being made. Government figures suggest that total UK decarbonisation will require an investment equivalent to 1-2% of GDP through 2050 and some estimate the total cost for the UK to exceed a trillion pounds overall.

Clearly someone’s going to have to foot this bill and there’s every likelihood that the green taxes spotlight will fall increasingly on the highest energy consumers. And, given the amount of energy used by today’s data centres, it’s hard to imagine that our industry will escape an increased focus on its power usage and management.

The combination of 2018’s exceptionally hot summer, uncertain data centre capacity levels due to the continued shift towards public cloud services and the move towards less efficient Edge centres has made efficient operation much harder to achieve.

According to global data centre authority the Uptime Institute, average Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) numbers have actually increased recently, with a rise from 1.58 in 2018 to 1.67 over the last 12 months.

Many data centre operators have simply hidden behind their critical facilities status to avoid serious scrutiny of their energy usage.

Although it’s understandable that DC teams should prioritise risk avoidance for their critical services, the standard practice of simply adding more and more expensive cooling hardware to handle escalating capacity demands is storing up a serious carbon issue for organisations trying to move to net zero.

As a result, data centres aren’t doing enough to optimise energy performance. The reality for data centre operators is that they now need to move beyond incremental improvements to achieve this goal.

The good news though is that for the vast majority of operational DCs, straight-forward options are available to address the issues.

For example, with the latest release of our cloud-based 3D data centre monitoring, management and optimisation software, we have added a unique integrated Cooling Adviser capability that offers clear recommendations of actions that operations teams can immediately take to adapt their data centre’s operational performance and minimise environmental impact.

These recommendations alone can unlock data centre cooling carbon reductions of at least 10% without the requirement for radical redesigns or expensive cooling refresh programmes. It’s this kind of accessible, practical ‘expertise as a service’ that can make a real difference for data centre operators – giving them a head start on energy reduction before the carbon reduction team starts knocking on the door.

Michael Akinla, Business Manager Central Europe North, Panduit EMEA

In an environment where consumption of all things appears to be heading skywards, data use, bandwidth and storage requirements are right on trend. With levels of data creation and use now surpassing zettabytes volumes per year, the data centre technology suites that facilitate this compute power need to be carefully controlled.

From the standpoint of an infrastructure supplier, today’s discussions with data centre operators and corporate end-users, with owned data centre capability, are framed around increased bandwidth, reduced latency and energy concerns including lower power usage and effective climate control to optimise the compute environment.

Data centre operators are adapting to a mostly western world view – that data centres consume massive amounts of energy and need to be accountable and seen to be operating in a responsible manner.

With the mass of experience now available in the industry, data centres can be designed to take advantage of the specific region’s climate, so for example, in northern Europe, data centres can operate ‘free-cooling’ of the IT load, which massively reduces the total energy used in the facility.

There is also a trend, driven by hyperscale design, towards solid floor technology suites which again reduce overall complexity and allows cooled air to be channelled across the space into Hot Aisle Containment (HAC) pods.

These cabinets are designed to effectively draw cool air through the racks across the hot equipment and then expel the hot exhaust air into the ceiling void to be recirculated and cooled once again. 

These HAC cabinets ensure hot and cool air remain separated and do not mix and contaminate the input flow, which could raise the operating temperature.

Using refrigerated cooling systems to maintain the IT load will certainly require higher energy use and therefore increase capital cost and operational cost. Often refrigerated cooling systems require more energy to operate than the technology space compute equipment it is serving.

This approach aligns with ASHRAE TC9.9 recommendations which specify higher equipment operating temperatures, while remaining within the manufacturers’ warranty specifications and also reducing energy use.

Advances in computation flow dynamics (CFD) in the design of technology suites greatly assists layout and management. Developments in server, storage, switch and infrastructure technology, including cabling and racks, together with intelligent monitoring systems and millions of hours of facility analysis allows energy efficient systems to dramatically reduce operational expenditure.

New technologies benefit the operator and user with cheaper energy costs and higher performance solutions. This also offers the operator and customers the cachet of sustainability, low PUE and increased eco-friendliness.

Marc Garner, Vice President, Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric UK and Ireland

When seeking to become more eco-friendly, there are a number of key areas that today’s data centre owners and operators must consider. These include the design of the facility, its power source, choice of UPS and cooling solution, and use of management software, which is an essential piece of the puzzle. 

Cloud-based DCIM software

Data centre management software allows for better visibility into power, cooling and IT loads, while enabling greater levels of automation to take place within today’s facilities.

However, it’s important to highlight that without a software or monitoring solution in place, it’s near impossible for businesses to find out what strain the current IT load is putting on the existing infrastructure, or indeed what their energy usage might be.

If an organisation already utilises a cloud-based data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) solution – like Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure IT, which offers greater levels of visibility and insight than older legacy platforms – the user can make real-time, data-driven decisions that could significantly lower cost. In many cases using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to predict and anticipate changes within the facility.

Data centre design

Another consideration is that of the IT requirement and data centre design. Does the capacity utilisation meet the demands currently placed upon it by the business and should more be needed, is there room to scale both cost-effectively and efficiently?

If the answer is no and the organisation needs to add capacity quickly, prefabricated power, cooling and IT modules present an option for predictable, efficient and rapid deployment; allowing the user to specify exactly what’s required, rather than over provisioning the data centre.

Cooling configuration

Other than the IT load, the cooling solution will often account for a high proportion of energy use. Therefore, should an option for free cooling be available, a company may choose to utilise this to become more eco-friendly. If a different approach is required, they might consider hot-aisle containment, InRow or liquid cooling based on the greatest opportunity for a lower PUE and better ROI in terms of reduced energy costs.

Power and UPS

When choosing the power requirement, another consideration may be the desired CSR or sustainability objectives. A good example may be the company’s choice to utilise only renewable energy sources.

When it comes to power, a UPS is of course an absolute necessity and should a company be looking to take advantage of the latest technological advancements, they may opt for Lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries over valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) cells.

Research from Schneider Electric’s Data Centre Science Centre found that over a 10-year period, Li-ion delivered a lower TCO that was between 10% and 40% less than an equivalent UPS system based on VRLA.

From a sustainability perspective, Li-ion batteries do not contain hazardous chemical materials and are increasingly easier to recycle, as waste-management operators become more familiar with the specific procedures needed to handle large format systems.

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