Green Data Centers: The Equinix Approach

Part 2 in a 4-part series

Creating data centers based on green IT practices and greater energy efficiency requires more than legislation. In fact, both suppliers and customers must continue to refine their understanding, approaches and attitudes.

Equinix, for example, by virtue of its position as the world’s largest multi-tenant data center provider, as well as its overall energy consumption, must continue to be a steward for responsible energy usage. This requires balancing technology capabilities and its business requirements with customer and market demands.

As a result, Equinix works directly with technology manufacturers to develop more efficient, effective and robust technology, at less cost. Advances such as transformer-less UPS running in eco mode, with dramatically lower stand-by power consumption, do not happen in a vacuum.

Equinix also demands that its suppliers continue to reduce their own supply chain’s carbon footprint. Industry watchers estimate that 60% of a PC’s carbon footprint, for example, occurs before the device is powered on for the first time. Accordingly, Equinix demands constant improvements in its suppliers’ supply chain, as well as their suppliers’ practices, to minimize carbon consumption as much as possible.

Equinix’s SV5 data center in Silicon Valley, California was built using some of the world’s most sophisticated green technologies available today.

 

When constructing new IBX data centers, Equinix pursues capabilities and certifications that exceed current legislative requirements. Some types of IBX, for example, are well suited to LEED certification.

But achieving LEED certification, as Equinix has done with newer U.S. facilities – demands investing in capabilities which, while initially quite expensive, do deliver substantially better energy efficiency over the long term.

Equinix is also devoting substantial investment to retrofitting its existing data centers with the latest energy-saving technologies, to maximize energy savings and operational efficiency.

Finally, Equinix continues to invest in a number of specialist roles and predictive types of technology that would have been unthinkable even five years ago. These include operations analysts that liaise with legislators and study the industry’s operational best practices, and predictive modeling software to identify the best combination of variables – architecture, hardware, loads, cooling techniques, floor layout, and more – for maximizing energy savings and reliability.

Customers Must Rethink Requirements

However, increasing the use of green IT also demands something from customers. To begin with, they must rethink their requirements. Already, for example, many organizations are moving away from always running a 2N power and cooling system, since with today’s technology, N+1 topologies have been proven to consistently deliver 99.999%+ availability while dramatically decreasing hardware costs, energy consumption and total cost of ownership.

Organizations shouldn’t stop there.

For example, the typical RFP submitted to Equinix today requires a data center operating temperature of around 22°C. This requirement is identical to RFPs from 10 years ago, even though IT vendor technology, design and tolerances have evolved substantially in that time. The latest EU ETSI guidelines, again, not developed in a vacuum, allow operating temperatures of up to 35°C (95°F) which, notably, is within the operating parameters of a blade server.

Beyond changes in operating temperature capabilities, consider the following:

  • Facilities
    Small changes can produce significant energy savings. For example, Equinix is retrofitting its data centers, which globally comprise 550,000 square meters (6 million square feet) with motion-activated lighting systems, long-life LED and compact fluorescent lights that consume 75% less energy, and even waterless toilets.
  • Eco-mode UPS
    Traditionally, all incoming power is routed through a UPS, which transforms it from AC to DC power and then back again, losing energy in the process. Today, however, eco mode enables AC power to flow directly to equipment, while still maintaining appropriate levels of reliability.
  • Physical Separation
    Where Equinix has total design control, its engineers physically separate equipment according to its operating temperature tolerance, which notably decreases cooling requirements and thus power consumption.
  • Containment
    Equinix has invested in the use of air containment systems (both cold and hot aisle types) where it is has been practical
    to do so, in order to maximize efficiency of the air management equipment as well as enable higher density computing deployments
  • Blanking Plates
    Equinix always recommends that customers use cabinet blanking plates to maintain hot and cold airflow separation, and configure equipment correctly to maintain an optimal hot and cold airflow.

Rather than pursuing an abstract or potentially outdated ideal, always demand: What’s “good enough”? To help answer that question, Equinix employs data center engineers who are experts at configuring and deploying equipment for the best results. In addition, Equinix invests in operations analysts who, backed by state-of-the-art predictive tools, constantly research new techniques for increasing efficiency and decreasing power consumption.

So, too, businesses must constantly investigate what’s possible today. For a start, that means allowing wider temperature and humidity ranges, and tracking the latest available technology. Furthermore, remember that what works in an enterprise data center (or used to) isn’t always an optimal approach for larger data centers, which increasingly cater to virtualization and cloud computing.

Coming up in part 3: Green data center myths.