28 Nov CDW Berbee “goes green” with new data center
Madison, Wis. – Jon Vander Hill isn’t sure about the public relations benefits of CDW Berbee’s next enterprise data center, which will be a “green” data center, but he’s convinced of the business benefits.
Vander Hill, senior manager for data center infrastructure for CDW Berbee, the benefits extend beyond providing business customers with a redundant hosting platform, or relieving those with corporate data centers of that cost burden.
Public relations benefits may be real or imagined, but companies that don’t look at green IT in terms of competitive advantage are making a mistake, he said.
“It depends on how bright media spotlight shines on those industries, but I do think they risk losing competitiveness in their marketplaces,” Vander Hill said. “It’s not just a PR advantage, there are real dollars and cents involved here.”
Gartner, Inc., an information technology research and advisory company, has identified “Green IT” as one of its Top 10 strategic technologies for 2008, right along with popular solutions like unified communications, virtualization, and software as a service.
Gartner reports that regulations are multiplying and that governments could even place constraints on the construction of future data centers as their impact on power grids, carbon emissions, and other environmental impacts are on the radar screen of politicians and regulators, alike.
Planned for the New Venture Center in the Fitchburg Technology Campus, the 30,000-square-foot data center will be part of a 70,000 square foot facility that also includes additional office space for CDW Berbee, which already operates data centers in Madison and Minneapolis. CDW Berbee and Team Technologies of Cedar Falls, Iowa will develop the data center in three phases over a three-year period.
Green data centers are more than repositories for the storage, management, and dissemination of data. They are designed to maximize energy efficiency in the center’s mechanical, lighting, electrical and computer systems, thereby minimizing their environmental impacts.
Most of the incentive to build green data centers is due to the rising costs of corporate computing environments and the growing demand for data center space, especially in the Midwest. Berbee’s Phil LaForge, director of the company’s hosting and managed services practice, said the monthly retail price for a data center “cabinet” that draws four kilowatts of power now is about $1,800, up from about $1,100 in 2001. Unlike that earlier period, when business customers could get that $1,100 retail price discounted to about $750, the lack of supply and the increasing demand make it likely they will pay the full retail price.
The new data center will be built out to a power density of five kilowatts per rack, up from 1.75 kilowatts per rack at its eight-year-old facility. According to Mark Kittrell, head of development for TEAM, the project will employ the best practices available to minimize power usage and cooling. He and spokesmen for CDW Berbee and Madison Gas & Electric Co. cited several “green” components, including:
1. A more efficient cooling system that takes a different approach air flow. Traditionally, the cooling systems of data centers have been configured with 30-ton air handlers situated under the floor. However, because cool air doesn’t naturally rise, it has to be blown up through perforated floor tiles, which requires energy consumption. In addition, the warm air that comes out of the back of the racks is a challenge to control in terms of where it flows, so data center managers have to be careful about where they place things.
TEAM has created greater economies of scale by putting fewer and larger (and more efficient) units on the roof and directly piping cool air from those units down into the computer racks, themselves. “You have cool air piped in a way that cool air just drops from pipes on ceiling to right in front of racks,” Vander Hill said.
Equipment in the racks will draw the cool air into the racks while a “hot-air chimney” behind the racks, which serves as a return duct, will run hot air back to the rooftop air handlers. In new center, managers will still have to move the air, but they will gain efficiency because they are using gravity to help.
“It s a very integrated design,” Vander Hill said. “What we are trying to do is avoid those operational issues by using this direct-ducting system.”
To gauge efficiency, one of metrics CDW Berbee will examine is the operating ratio, which is the total amount of electricity coming into center divided by the amount of electricity needed to run the “critical load,” which includes business-critical things like computers and network equipment. The total energy would be electricity for the critical load, plus everything else – primary the cooling system
As data centers gain efficiency in the cooling system, they should record an improved operating ratio. CDW Berbee’s current data centers have a ratio of between 1.7 and 1.8, which means that it takes about 80 percent of the energy that goes into the critical load for cooling and lights. In the new center, Berbee anticipates a ratio of 1.5, which would cut overhead by 30 percent and result in lower energy bills – exactly how much lower has yet to be determined.
2. Working with MG&E and its program for distributed power generation, which allows the utility to minimize the amount of power consumed off the grid. Utilities are required to provide uninterrupted power, and one layer of protection is provided by diesel-powered generators for use in times of peak loads and power outages, which enables MG&E to conserve power on the grid in emergency situations.
After redundant electrical systems, the diesel-powered generators represent a unique “back up to the back up,” according to John Drury, business development manager for MG&E. “We’ve got a triple layer of reliability,” he said.
3. Making sure the data center “fits well on the site.” Kittrell said the facility is being built with “as little imprint on the area as possible,” with no water leaving the site and with no single-family homes within a quarter mile of the facility – plus sound-abatement measures such as low-noise equipment and barriers.
The use of green (renewable) building materials addresses issues ranging from energy consumption to indoor air quality.
Kittrell said anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 will be spent on measures to make the data center compatible with nearby residential neighborhoods.
Not every member of corporate America is on the green bandwagon, but late adopters could pay a price. In this era of high energy prices and alternative fuel development, environmentalists and (increasingly) the general public are demanding green approaches from virtually every business organization.
Jorge Lopez, managing vice president for Gartner, said during the recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo that the green business trend is rising and likely to gain traction in 2008 as more as more companies, viewing green IT as part of their corporate social responsibility, focus on sustainability in their purchasing decisions.
Vander Hill believes that “going green” will become a best practice and an expectation of the business community because if the business community or the industry at large doesn’t address it, it will be address for them via government regulation.
At the moment, the federal government is trying to apply some gentle persuasion. A study released earlier this year by the Environmental Protection Agency spelled out a list of things it would like to see from the technology industry, including greater efficiency of data center facilities and improved electrical efficiency of server and computer equipment.
“The report earlier this year was kind of a gentle nudge from the government to the industry,” Vander Hill said. “The industry is on an exponential growth curve in energy consumption and the government is saying that, as an industry, we really need to address this.”
• Gartner’s Top 10: Wisconsin companies progress to hot strategic technologies
• Jeff Wacker, Part II: Automation to replace IT labor
• Data center sticker shock? Companies may be in for cost surprise
• CDW Berbee to break ground on new data center
• Wisconsin Internet service provider wants to build model for “green” data center
• Berbee to expand at New Venture Center