Data Center

3 Sustainability Stories from Our Data Center Experts

Shad Sechrist
What does “sustainability” mean when you’re talking about a data center? Everyone you speak with in the industry has a different definition—and every organization’s own sustainability definition and mission are different based on their unique circumstances and challenges.


At its core, data center sustainability involves a delicate balancing act: reducing waste without getting rid of too much, futureproofing without over-provisioning and being energy efficient without impacting operations.


We recently led a LinkedIn Live event featuring Belden's Director of Data Center Sales Chrissy Olsen, Technology Solutions Architect Henry Franc and myself. Together, we explored the state of data center sustainability and ways you can improve your own space.


Here are three true stories about data center sustainability we shared during the event in late July. If you want to hear more, watch the 30-minute session here.


1. To Improve Efficiency, Get Insight into What’s Really Going On


In one office space, as things were winding down for the day, workers noticed a pattern: Every night at around 4:30pm, a server went down and caused productivity issues. Staff were investigating, but no one could figure out why this was happening. Was it because a cable was malfunctioning? Was the server overheating? Was it some kind of malware or attack?


Finally, the team realized what was happening: The custodial staff were coming into the data center every night and unplugging the server to plug in a vacuum cleaner.


While this may seem like a one-off situation, we’ve actually seen things like this happen more than once. In another instance, custodial staff members found a power distribution unit (PDU) with an open receptacle and used it to plug in their cleaning equipment. This overloaded the PDU and brought part of the data center down as a result. After lots of troubleshooting, the data center team finally pinpointed the cause.


In both of these cases, lots of money and time were wasted on trying to find the problem (and then find a solution), which translates to inefficiency. If a data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solution were in place, it could have alerted data center staff as soon as something happened (a server was unplugged or a PDU became overloaded). From there, steps could have easily been taken to address who had data center access.


2. Deploy Resources Wisely


It takes more than fiber, copper and cabinets to create a data center. You need operational technologies, too, such as airflow, access control, command and control, surveillance systems, etc. But it’s not as simple as rolling out any cooling system or putting up cameras around the perimeter of the data center.


We remember a situation where a colocation data center team was excited to find a deal on in-room air chillers—so they bought more than 20 and installed them all inside the white space of their data center on Day One. The facility didn’t need that many air chillers, however, so they sat and idled for hours and days at a time, which was very inefficient. (In most cases, these types of air chillers don’t achieve peak efficiency until they reach 70% or 80% of load.)


Deploying in-room air chillers wasn’t necessarily a bad idea—or even a bad investment—but there were much better ways to utilize them, improve energy efficiency and lower operating costs: cycle the chillers in and out as needed, put several away as backups, partition the white space so each air chiller could cool a certain space, etc.


Installing parts and pieces without thinking about the bigger picture doesn’t move you any closer to achieving a sustainable data center. It’s only when your systems come together in harmony that you can create an efficient, practical and right-sized space.


3. Make Sure You Solve the Right Problem


In an effort to improve security, a supermax prison wanted to invest in cable management software. The team was hoping that this would tell them when cables were being moved or plugged into different places.


We listened to what they wanted and warned that this type of software can be very expensive. To see if we could come up with a more cost-effective alternative, we asked for details about what they wanted to accomplish.


To prevent loss of control, the data center operator shared that they wanted to be alerted if a prisoner started re-patching or disconnecting and reconnecting things inside the data center. While the goal was a good one, we helped them see the bigger picture: If a prisoner gains access to your data center and can move cables around, then it’s too late. You’ve already lost control of your network. Instead of a solution that provides alerts about re-patching, consider a network management system. It would provide much earlier warning that something was happening: You would know the minute a surveillance camera in a specific area went down or when access control was bypassed.


This was a much more affordable (and sustainable) resource that attacked the right problem: making sure the data center was secure. The prison didn’t need to know when someone was moving cables; they needed to know when a prisoner had gained access to the data center. Investing in the right solution the first time helps ensure cost and time efficiency, which translates to sustainability and less waste.


Want to hear a few more insights from me and my colleagues? Listen to the entire LinkedIn Live session here. If you have questions about data center sustainability, how to get started or what you should consider as you move toward sustainability, send me a note. I’d be happy to help.