Green data centres mix high and low technology

Some of the far-out techniques that architects are using to build the nation’s greenest data centres include photo voltaic arrays, sod roofs and reflective white membranes.

But the managers of these data centres say some of the most effective ways of cutting back electricity usage — such as raising the computer room temperature a few degrees — also are the simplest.

A peek inside the nation’s greenest data centres shows that these facilities are a mix of high-tech and low-tech, innovative and obvious ways of cutting back on electricity and creating more environmentally friendly IT operations.

Building green data centres involves a fair amount of gamesmanship.

Some of the clever ways that architects get new data centres certified by the U.S. Green Building Council have less to do with improving energy efficiency and more to do with other environmental goals such as reducing water usage. Often it’s native landscaping, rainwater recovery systems, waterless urinals and bike racks that earn data centers enough points to qualify them as “green.”

To build a green data centre, you need “a team that works together and is incredibly creative,” says Kath Williams, a Montana green building consultant and former vice-chair of the U.S. Green Building Council. “It’s amazing where you can find the energy savings.”

Interest in energy-efficient data centres has grown significantly in the past two years, as electricity bills have soared. Additionally, more data centre operators are concerned about the effects of greenhouse gasses produced by the most common ways of powering computers and network gear: coal-burning plants.

Data centres are among the hardest commercial buildings to make energy efficient because the computer systems they house require so much electricity and give off so much heat. About half of the electricity consumed in a data centre is from the power and cooling infrastructure that supports IT equipment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“It’s extremely difficult” to build a data center that meets the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, Williams says. “For data centres, the challenge is the energy load.”

Earlier versions of the LEED standards excluded the so-called process load, which is the amount of energy used for data processing. But the latest versions of the LEED standards –Version 2.2 and higher — don’t allow this exclusion.

“Now it’s the complete energy use in the building, with all the computers running 24 by 7,” Williams says. “Every bit of energy in that building has to be accounted for.”

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