Equinix Interview: Measuring Up to a Higher Efficiency Standard

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Equinix is serious about improving energy efficiency at our data centers, so that requires us to be serious about an important data center metric called Power Usage Effectiveness.

PUE measures efficiency by calculating how much of the total energy used by a data center goes to power the computing equipment, and how much is used on overhead, such as lighting and cooling. We pay a lot of attention to the numbers, which also get a lot of scrutiny from environmental organizations. Now, Equinix is changing how it reads PUE. We figured Dave Rinard, Equinix’s Director of Global Design and Construction, could tell us more.

Dave detailed Equinix’s ongoing switch from a PUE Category 0 to a PUE Category 1 standard, a change that’s a bit more electric than it sounds. But we’ll let him explain.

What’s were the most important developments in Equinix’s energy efficiency program during the past year?

A big change is our move toward measuring our energy efficiency using The Green Grid indicator PUE Category 1 (aka PUE1), rather than PUE Category 0. Essentially, the old way that measured PUE for efficiency purposes was demand-based. The new way is based on actual consumption. So instead of running a calculation to figure out consumption, we’re actually measuring consumption every day all day long. That’s a key difference. PUE1 is a 12-month rolling annualized reading that takes into account seasonality, the time of day, all of the things that are rolling into this over time. With PUE0, it was more of a snapshot reading and more limited.

Another major thing is by standardizing on PUE1 around the world, it will allow us to accurately calculate other important metrics, like Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE) and Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE). It will also be easier to participate in programs like Energy Star. Right now, the Energy Star certification is a manual calculation, which means someone has to physically collect the data from the utility meters. The switch to PUE1 and more automation around the readings will allow us to include more data centers for Energy Star consideration. Overall, it enhances the efficiency of our operations and the impact, and it will enable us to be more transparent.

Are customers pushing hard for more changes like this?

More and more customers are reporting their carbon footprint and more are becoming more interested in green certifying systems. We’re in their supply chain at Equinix. Our customers run computer systems, but those systems live within our sites. How green and efficient we are reflects on how green and efficient those customers are.

Equinix has different considerations from other companies when it comes to improving PUE, is that correct?

It is. Equinix is a retail multi-tenant data center and we have a lot of customers within our data centers and varying customer density of equipment. In addition, when it comes to implementing new technologies or programs, we can really only do what our most conservative customer will allow us to do at any one site.

We also have a limited ability to control siting, because we have to be where the interconnections are since speed is so important. For instance, you can’t put a financial exchange in Greenland to take advantage of natural cooling. Nobody could locate there, they’d lose every trade. We have to locate in New Jersey. And what’s in New Jersey? Warm, humid weather and dirty carbon intensive power.

How does Equinix balance the demands of the various environmental standards and its customers’ needs?

Well, our number one goal is reliability. We do nothing that impacts reliability. That’s why we’re a slow adopter of new technology. We have to be absolutely certain that reliability won’t be compromised. We’re going to hang back from the edge and let other people take that risk.