Companies come to Equinix not only for industry-leading digital infrastructure solutions but also as a partner in achieving their sustainability goals. For years, we’ve been at work designing a more efficient, sustainable data center—what we call the data center of the future. We’ve been exploring wide-ranging sustainable and efficient design practices to help us reduce operational emissions—from alternative power sources to airflow management solutions to high-density cooling technologies.
And the results are tangible. As reported in the latest Equinix Sustainability Report, Equinix has seen a 23% reduction in operational greenhouse gas emissions across Scope 1 and 2 emissions since baseline measurements were taken in 2019, all while the company has grown by more than 35%. Last year, we achieved 96% renewable energy coverage for our global data center energy consumption—the closest we’ve come so far to achieving our goal of 100% renewable energy coverage by 2030.
Thermal efficiency is an important component of the sustainability equation. Optimizing the temperature profile in our data centers, while continuing to provide the trusted uptime and service our customers rely on, supports our long-term sustainability strategy. In December 2022, we announced our commitment to optimizing our overall power use by widening the operating temperature ranges within our data centers—the first such commitment in our sector.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the challenges that come with optimizing temperature profiles within mission-critical data center environments.
The intricacies of managing data center temperatures effectively
Even a few degrees’ difference can lead to operational efficiency gains, but operating within wider parameters is not without its complexity. The goal is to operate data centers as efficiently as we can without increasing IT load—which is the amount of energy consumed by the equipment in the room.
To expand our operating temperature range at Equinix IBX® data centers, we have to control certain variables and meet certain conditions—such as ensuring air containment around hot and cold aisles. As a minimum condition, we need to make sure we separate supply air to the IT equipment from return air. One simple method for improving airflow efficiency is using blanking panels to fill unused positions in racks. At Equinix, we developed a software application that allows staff to notify customers if a rack is missing blanking panels or showing other containment defects. In 2022, approximately 13,000 tickets were created, and our teams worked diligently to resolve them as quickly as possible, with around 85% of them closed.
In 2022, Equinix achieved 96% renewable energy coverage for our global data center energy consumption.
Today, we’re working with a select set of customers at a limited number of IBX sites to optimize temperature profiles that will yield long-term sustainability benefits. What we’re after is the use of free cooling, or cooling without making use of chillers, which will enable the entire IBX facility to use less power while allowing for the same level of performance. The ability to harness free cooling could improve data center efficiency by up to 10% across our global portfolio. To get there, we need to ensure that cooling systems can sustain output of exit air at the optimal temperature. Additionally, we have to adjust our monitoring systems with new alarms set to the optimized temperature profile and train operating staff accordingly.
Upleveling our data center staff expertise
Our Equinix data center technicians are the best in the industry at what they do. As we evolve the data center of the future for greater energy efficiency, we’re training staff not only on why we’re making these changes but on the specific policies and protocols that will help us control the environment optimally. Facility engineers, for example, must understand how potentially higher temps influence the settings of the cooling system so they can reconfigure coolant temperatures accordingly. At the same time, they can combine this work with preparing their site to allow for newer approaches like liquid cooling.
We’re also doing everything we can to ensure workers stay as comfortable as possible. Optimizing temperature profiles in data centers has implications for site staff, since staff are often working in direct proximity of hot air outlets. However, we’re taking measures to mitigate and manage that challenge: Ideally, most of the work in IBX facilities will shift to the cold aisles, and fiber connections to equipment would be located there.
Our efficient temperature commitment fits our larger environmental mission
The work Equinix is doing to design the data center of the future aims to improve our energy efficiency without compromising the performance or longevity of servers and storage equipment. Optimizing for efficient temperature profiles is just one commitment among many we’ve made to doing whatever we can do to protect the planet.
Here are some other efficiency initiatives coming from our IBX facilities:
- Reusing our waste heat to warm offices and warehouse spaces
- Exporting waste heat to heat local homes or for use in other public and community infrastructure—including the Paris 2024 Olympic pool
- Reducing refrigerant gas exposure to the environment and pursuing alternative refrigerants
- Exploring alternatives to diesel for backup generators
- Optimizing water usage, and in turn the use of chemicals to treat water
These are just a few examples of what we’re working on today, but you can rest assured that we’re committed to continuing to evolve our data centers for greater operational efficiency and optimal performance and reliability, now and into the future.
To learn more about what’s involved with designing sustainable data centers, read the Equinix white paper The Data Center of the Future: Reaching Sustainability.
And to find out more about our broader sustainability commitments and achievements, download the latest Equinix Sustainability Report highlights.