An intelligent approach to sustainability

When Eric Swanson talks about sustainability, he doesn’t just pay it lip service.

“It just kills me when I see solutions being put in place that are less sustainable or efficient than they could be,” said Swanson, data centre manager for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC).
So rather than a rip-and-replace or pouring millions into a new data centre, the winner of ComputerWorld Canada’s IT Manager of the Year in the enterprise category championed the AAFC’s intelligent containment project, which was recognized by the Uptime Institute earlier this year as a world-class innovative approach to increase a data centre’s cooling system efficiency.
The project allowed the AAFC’s 20-year-old Winnipeg-based data centre to keep pace with organizational growth by reclaiming previously wasted cooling, resulting in significant savings.
With around 8,000 employees, the AAFC is a government organization that provides information, research and technology to help Canada’s agriculture, agri-food and agri-based products sector increase its environmental sustainability, embrace innovation, and compete in markets at home and abroad.
Since 2008, however, the organization’s IT load had increased more than 60 per cent. Swanson, who was responsible for managing this rapidly growing data centre, started looking for a cost-effective way to increase the cooling efficiency in AAFC’s data centre, allowing IT load growth without requiring additional cooling infrastructure.
Swanson was already using 100 per cent of available air conditioning. The only way to grow without a hefty investment was to use the cooling he already had, but use it more efficiently. “To do that as a retrofit is unheard of,” he said.
The organization couldn’t afford to spend millions of dollars on a new data centre, so Swanson made use of older technology, making it much more energy-efficient. “I just followed an incremental approach, I just went rack by rack to the point where I had about 70 per cent of the racks contained,” he said.
To buy another air conditioner would have cost around $300,000. But Swanson was able to contain all the racks for less than $100,000, and this cost was spread out over time so there wasn’t any sticker shock.
In fact, Swanson managed the project so well that upper management didn’t even realize he had done it — that is, until he won the Uptime award.
Intelligent containment allowed the AAFC to reclaim 150 per cent more wasted cooling with best practices in airflow management alone, allowing IT load increases for the same cooling energy. Not only that, but it also increased uptime. As a result, the AAFC was able to handle a 60 per cent increase in IT load with no additional energy or infrastructure costs, and more than 30 per cent of this increase was only possible because of the intelligent containment project.
Swanson attributes the success of the project to the support of his managers, employees, project team and various stakeholders (Opengate Data Systems was the supplier, with support services provided by Prairie HVAC). He ensured the various stakeholders were kept informed throughout the project, providing several tours and presentations, up to the CIO level, both within and outside the department.
“I truly hope this helps others to see the value there can be with green and sustainable IT solutions,” said Swanson, “that everyone wins with lower costs, lower environmental impacts (and) increased corporate social responsibility.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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