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Data Centres: Taking on the green challenge

Image of Data Centre
1 March 2022

Data centres occupy a central and increasingly indispensable place at the heart of many organisations. Here, Charles Penny, Managing Director of AREA3, a BGIS company, discusses the growing global appetite for digital infrastructure, the push to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint, and how BGIS combines expertise and unique solutions to support data centres to become more sustainable, efficient, and resilient.

Q. The demand for digital infrastructure has only increased in recent years, with no signs of slowing down. Does this kind of rapid growth present any challenges?

Charles Penny (CP): The demand for data centre space continues to grow globally and was only accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The development of new technologies such as 5G, cryptocurrencies, augmented reality, cloud software, the metaverse and Internet of Things, as well as new start-ups, software advances and companies such as Microsoft, Google and Facebook (to name a few) – with their ever-evolving product lines and the supporting technology required – means data centres and auxiliary technologies will continue to evolve at pace. As it currently stands, demand outweighs supply and this presents a few issues for data centre developers, including supply chain issues, price inflation in equipment and materials, access to power supplies, skilled labour shortages in the delivery and operation of data centres, and scarcity of infrastructure supplies such as fibre.

“At AREA3 | BGIS, we are at the forefront of technical delivery, both in the project and facilities management space.”

As a global organisation, we see first-hand the challenges being experienced across the world, and the best solutions to deploy in response. We have a range of differentiators that ensure we’re best placed to support our clients in the face of any unexpected issues, such as:

Technical PM and FM – Our expert critical environments team is made up of engineers and technical tradespeople who have first-hand knowledge of critical infrastructure, and how to manage the technical and operational risks of large, operationally sensitive domains.

Unique Products – We have a unique offering that includes Cormant-CS™, the Vigilent Dynamic Cooling Management® System, ICɅRUS Ops™ and BGIS Audits, to assist our clients with optimum delivery and operations of complex buildings.

Training – We provide highly specialised training bespoke to BGIS technical staff, enabling our team to successfully plan, develop and implement facilities maintenance, life-cycle maintenance programs, and measure and manage sustainable facilities environments.

Innovation – Our global innovation team is dedicated to capturing and implementing continual improvements, ensuring we proactively support our clients before the need arises.

Q: Data centres are notorious consumers of energy. What are some emerging trends and technologies designed to improve environmental performance?

CP: Globally, data centres account for around 2 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions. They are very water and energy hungry assets required to run and be maintained with minimal – and in fact, preferably no – disruption. The demand on power grids and subsequent environmental impacts is unsustainable, and so a reassessment of how we build and operate data centres is necessary for the benefit of the data centre operators, colocation operators and the enterprise clients, as well as the planet. There are several new and developing solutions that can further improve efficiencies, including:

Software – Software – such as our Vigilent Dynamic Cooling Management® System – makes use of AI technology to improve air movements within the data halls and enhance cooling. Real-time Computational Fluid Dynamics analysis is utilised to cool areas that require it most.

Hardware – Water-cooled rack systems and immersion-cooling technology has come a long way over the past few years and now has the backing of major players such as Microsoft and Google. This can result in better power-usage effectiveness and a reduced footprint.

Energy – One of the biggest factors determining a data centre’s level of sustainability is where they source their energy. BGIS’ building efficiency consultancy, HFM, is currently developing a sustainability product tailored for data centre clients. The solution entails detailed energy and asset audits and the establishment of a net-zero strategy, which would be supported by a sustainability roadmap featuring energy procurement initiatives, carbon off-setting and even rooftop renewables.

Physical – The location of a data centre in cooler climates helps with the use of free air cooling. Rack containment and white-space management – including the implementation of hot and cold aisle containment and management of grills within the data halls – is one way of going about this.

“In the coming years, I expect to see more sustainable, efficient, adaptable and resilient data centres opening their doors across the world. The sustainability opportunities that come with them for organisations are simply unmissable.”

Q: How can we educate data centre operators to leave a greener footprint?

CP: Working with data centre owners and facilities management teams that keep up with international best practice is a great starting point for operators wanting to reduce the environmental impact of their data centre. However, an energy-efficient data centre is not something that should be left to the operational side of the business – it’s something that needs to be considered at the concept and planning stage. It’s important for co-location clients and data centre operators to engage a project team that understands the complexities of data centres, from total cost of ownership, design and procurement challenges to the latest technology and equipment, otherwise the project can end up being very costly in the future.

The right consultant and project delivery team will consider global learnings and improvements that can be implemented during the design phase, to ensure a greener design. Here in Australia, there are mechanisms in place such as the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications that can further support the design teams and align them with sustainability goals. Only a handful of assessments are done for data centres each year in Australia, so there isn’t a great deal of comparative data. HFM is one of the country’s largest NABERS assessors, and they are looking to build an internal database to support data centre clients who want to set sustainability targets and measure progress towards those goals.

Q: What should data centre operators look for in a facilities management (FM) provider?

CP: Signing up a new facilities management provider can be a tedious and daunting task. However, done right, outsourced FM can drive immediate cost savings, process efficiencies and free up internal resources to concentrate on strategic decisions.

“First and foremost, data centre operators should look for a safe pair of hands that understands the complexity of the assets – not simply how they operate, but how they can remain operating at peak performance.”

A good FM provider will be proactive, implement the latest technology and operating standards, streamline systems, and advise clients on best practices. And while FM might be a support function rather your core business production, it’s still an essential part of the day-to-day running of your business. To be most effective, FM providers need to work towards your overall business objectives and strategy, not just alongside them.

BGIS has significant experience, scale and reach in this area, having provided data centre management services since our beginnings in 1992. Our comprehensive capability is applied to the more than 300 data centres and 1000’s MWs of data centre capacity BGIS services globally for a diverse range of private and public enterprises.

Q7. What is BGIS’ unique offering to businesses with data centre requirements?

Since we can service both grey space (which includes critical support systems such as chillers, generators and switch gear) and white space, our suite of critical operations services is the most comprehensive in the industry. From commissioning, operations and maintenance, energy audits and project management through to decommissioning and even migrating to the cloud, BGIS’ service offering spans the entire lifecycle of a data centre environment – making us truly a one-stop shop for critical environments.

Earlier, we spoke about BGIS’ unique product offering, and a recent example demonstrates the inherent value this brings to our clients. We implemented the Vigilent Dynamic Cooling Management® System to dynamically control and monitor 99,000 square feet of data centre space for a global colocation and cloud services data centre company based in the Chicago area. This solution was deployed in addition to a chiller plant optimisation initiative to help the client gain cold aisle temperature visibility, and improve temperature management and overall energy efficiency. The outcome is that now only two chillers are required to operate instead of three, resulting in a 22.5 per cent reduction in energy usage, which equates to $164,000 (USD) in annual savings.

This is just one example of how we’re helping our global portfolio of clients to manage, maintain and continually improve their secure live data and operations centres. Based on BGIS’ platform, tools, knowledge and years of experience in operating and maintaining a range of critical environments, we are ideally suited to support businesses’ data centre requirements well into the future.

Charles PennyManaging Director, AREA3 | A BGIS Company