Green Data Center Man

In a lot of cases green building articles are preaching similar stories to those already involved or ‘converted’ to reduce climate impact.  After initiating this more than a decade ago, the once empty feeling room has swollen so that now most companies are going full-in on sustainable, low-carbon, energy efficient data centers, whether theirs or leasing from others. 

The other good news is that business is booming so much it can be a tough market to get top experts and builders involved in projects from inception to fruition.  The contracting companies have noticed this and, in an effort to relieve those with unending double-digit work days, the talent has come from all sorts of other industries – if they can be lured to doing data centers. 

Those who established themselves as green companies early on when sustainability was a small niche are now leading the mainstream as more projects need to comply with changing regulations, developer and owner demands.  And within the last few years, even as the COVID-19 pandemic began to rage throughout the world, the construction industry stayed steady on building new data centers while still aiming to reduce schedules and reduce costs. 

During that time, despite those challenges, the data center construction industry has proven that a new or revamped green data center is not stratospherically expensive.  The cost per square foot is different based on location, but the general picture is the same; a green data center can cost the same as a conventional data center if that is prioritized.  Of course, added features or specialized systems drive the costs up, but new technologies, operational conditions, and construction innovations have pushed them down. 

Cooling technologies with modern IT equipment are coupled so that free cooling (using outdoor air) can be used for the majority of the year.  Even during those peak hours the systems might balance loads in a more efficient manner to prevent mechanical cooling systems kept as back-up from ever needing to be fully operational.  Humidity and temperature management can be deployed at the rack level to allow for much closer control – and for a much wider range of operation. 

The approaches are not the same for each deployment, and with each data center the end users are given careful consideration to understand whether the mechanical cooling systems should have more or less extra capacity for a given data hall.  Air handling unit manufacturers are getting used to adjusting their factory-made equipment to those capacities while still providing high-integrity, quality units without much additional cost or added time. 

Even as some companies are aiming to provide uniformity with their facilities, the construction industry knows that every data center project can be custom because of variabilities – from land use and utilities to construction methods to equipment to commissioning and more.  It becomes difficult to create a uniform approach for facilities that are even across the street from one another. 

That lack of exact uniformity is not necessarily what the policy makers understand, as they are aiming to make and enforce standards for the building industry.  Most environmentalists are not willing to be patient any longer, with the possible improvements to be implemented as the minimum standard as soon as possible.  And applying those standards might treat some data centers differently due to their design or unproven technology.  But the modern data center has been far ahead of the minimum sustainability and efficiency requirements, out of their own self-interest as well as touting reduced environmental impact. 

Retrofits can not just modernize a data center to accommodate additional loads, but also incorporate the latest in power and cooling technologies to drive down cost and drive up performance to compete with new data centers.  And those retrofits are poised to ramp up as some companies not migrating to the cloud remap how their data centers can be part of their positive sustainability story simply by avoiding the environmental cost of a whole new facility. 

Using new technologies to make those changes can be tenuously accepted at first, but with more facilities pushing the boundaries of what is possible with their IT equipment and configurations it should be expected with every new or retrofitted data center.  These approaches could solve any issues where tougher legislation is beginning to take hold, such as New York, New Jersey, or California.  As these take hold and the benefits are proven, other states and countries will likely follow suit or considered as left behind on green and sustainable policies that help their region as well as tax base.  The latter case is easily seen through the number of green-based startup companies and training assistance to help with not just the growing data center industry but across all building sectors. 

There has been stalled progress, misses, and failures along the way.  The data center sector may have huge growth potential, but it does not tolerate disappointing products, companies, or construction results well.  Thus, many are averse to using those new green technologies unless pushed along by the legislation or owners that would rather deliver projects more safely and quickly than take a risk with something new to them.  This is a fear that we’ll need to get over to have the next data center project delivered with even better performance and less environmental impact – while still keeping schedule and costs within reason.  Many of those companies know this and put their names on the line to ensure they deliver knowing that if they do not they will cease to exist overnight. 

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