“Green” is a widely recognized, liberally utilized term to connote environmental responsibility, including its application to buildings for qualities like energy efficiency and low carbon footprint. These so called green buildings are governed by the U.S. Green Building Council through their Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, also known as LEED. LEED offers both professional accreditation for individuals as well as certifications for construction projects and commercial buildings, designating LEED ratings based on the level of environmentally responsible features within the structures. While there are more than 40,000 LEED-rated commercial green buildings in the U.S. today, data centers are caught in a “green gap” that exists in the system.
Top-of-the-line data centers boast features like 99.999 percent up-time, 24/7 access, uninterrupted power, uninterrupted cooling and generation, and redundancy and resiliency, hardly the vision of a green facility. Why? Simple. Customers demand it. In no scenario would a company use a data center that advertises 50 percent uptime, nine-to-five access and open windows for cooling. But if businesses continue to demand high-powered, always-on facilities, how can data centers become motivated to go green? There is very little incentive today to spend the millions of dollars required to renovate an older facility to become LEED certified, especially when it is generating revenue as is. Renovations that happen are more likely to have the bottom line in mind, like allowing more tenants to be oversubscribed without much regard for green attributes.
The green gap today exists between LEED, the construction companies following these standards and the technology project managers that propose and deliver the technology infrastructure solutions. LEED guidelines today do not include IT- specific terms in their points system or certifications. As a result, a LEED certified building accredited for using rain water to flush its toilets may still be an energy guzzler with 2,000 miles of copper cabling and multiple power hungry devices designed to keep the data center in business. In many cases, there’s more than meets the eye with these LEED certified data centers. There’s a gap between the label and the reality.
What will it take to close this green gap? It’s going to take environmentally responsible data center owners to demand green or LEED rated construction as well as green technology infrastructure planning and architecture throughout the facility. The technology architects must also alter their ways of designing not only for resiliency and uptime but also for environmental responsibility. IT professionals who have previous experience in architecting the technology in a LEED certified data center can source the right equipment and materials in the right quantities to ensure green attributes are integrated into all aspects of the data center’s technology. Project managers and subject matter experts must be LEED-aware, up-to-date on new energy saving devices, and able to provide green solutions in the existing technology designs while still meeting the customer’s requirements.
Green data centers are coming. Manufacturers across the globe are beginning to build and bring forth energy saving network devices, and data center owners and construction companies are starting to develop technology infrastructures according to the LEED points system. But to be a truly green building, the technology project managers and architects must take a deeper, harder look at all aspects of the data center to build a facility that is environmentally responsible but also productive and profitable for the long haul.
Dean Smith is a MODIS project consultant with 14 years of experience in infrastructure technology project management. He has led the development of more than 12 green technology infrastructure projects across the U.S. in the last 4 years.