greener data centres vs buildings

I can’t be the only person that has noticed, we have tools such as LEED (http://www.USGBC.org) and BEAM (http://www.HK-BEAM.org.hk) which treat new build (LEED NB, CS) projects and existing buildings (LEED O&M) differently. You might argue, without doubt, that new building is resource intensive, and sustainable construction activities should be supported. However, the operating cost of these green buildings was not considered a problem that needed solving! So the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) which considers the total operating cost, and air conditioned buildings the majority of which tends to be energy cost, little focus was put towards increasing efficiency. In the US pictures of LEED certified buildings with lights burning bright all night long have raised the issue of green building operating energy consumption.

Indoor Quality
One of the many green building challenges is IEQ (Indoor Environmental Quality) expanded from the former and tighter IAQ (Indoor air Quality) goal. You might wonder is there any real difference between IEQ and IAQ, and does it make a difference? IAQ is the environmental air quality, it is measurable, whereas as IEQ covers a wider range of factors such as air quality, lighting, noise, etc. These factors that impact the quality of your working environment, it is frankly a very difficult metric measure.

IEQ is very subjective measure, the benefits of natural daylighting, and access to vistas (windows) have been documented to improve productivity. However, for the night shift for example FX traders does sight of a dark window improve your productivity? doubtful in my view.

Studies prove that under a given set of indoor conditions, varied by temperature, humidity and clothing, the best one can achieve is 80% occupancy satisfaction, so given a set of optimum environmental conditions that leaves 20% out in the cold.

Greener Data Centres
For greener data centres its a different story, immediately the focus is the TCO of the facility. Its difficult to pick a single reason for this anomaly. Maybe it is the lack of occupants, machines don’t complain loudly if there is no view. Perhaps a more rational explanation is that most data centres are owner operated, and therefore energy awareness is at the forefront. Google Inc. states that its energy cost are second only to its payroll, a mighty incentive for improved energy efficiency of its hardware and facilities.

THE US EPA report (PDF format) [1] in 2007 certainly brought the issue into the public domain. The summary says:

The energy used by the nation’s servers and data centers is significant. It is estimated that this sector consumed about 61 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2006 (1.5 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption) for a total electricity cost of about $4.5 billion. This estimated level of electricity consumption is more than the electricity consumed by the nation’s color televisions and similar to the amount of electricity consumed by approximately 5.8 million average U.S. households (or about five percent of the total U.S. housing stock). Federal servers and data centers alone account for approximately 6 billion kWh (10 percent) of this electricity use, for a total electricity cost of about $450 million annually.

Perhaps it was fear of a backlash, or just the obvious opportunities to stop wasting energy, whatever the driver, facility operators started a drive towards greater energy efficiency.

Data Centre Operations
Another important issue for data centres has been operational change control. With separate IT and facilities operations departments.

As the world becomes digitized demand for data centre facilities increases, creating additional space is a time consuming and costly option, therefore rapidly increasing density followed, cramming more computing capacity into existing facilities. IT depts often installing additional equipment first, leaving struggling facilities manager to provide the necessary Power and Cooling. Whether through budgeting or structure IT and FM departments need to closely co-ordinate their activities if hot spots and power outages are to be avoided and improved energy efficiency achieved.

Building Energy Costs
With developers, and end users are becoming increasingly carbon aware the media grabbing projects have gone green, the challenge will be for every development to be green or at least greener. Over time, as green construction square footage increases, and acceptance widens, it will become the norm not the exception, and hopefully commercial buildings will be treated more like data centres where the TCO is considered at the conceptual design stage.

– John Herbert, Consultant, Kelcroft E&M Limited
helping lower the cost and impact of doing business in Asia