Executive Corner

ServInt’s New Data Center and Our Green Commitment

We just announced the opening of our newest data center, and as I write this, I’m looking at some pictures of the new facility. Next to these are some other photos of trees being planted. We just completed our 2011 carbon footprint reassessment and have upped our commitments to reforestation through our partners at American Forests.

There’s something funny about seeing pictures of trees being planted next to shots of our new data center in Reston, VA: on the one hand, I’m looking at tender young saplings lovingly held and planted in the soil; on the other, I see stark, white walls, massive industrial cooling units, and rows and rows of server racks.

By the visual alone, you might think that data center space is the most un-Green part of a hosting company’s operation. And while this can be true for a company without a serious commitment to the environment, choice of data center facility and build-out has some of the greatest Green potential of anything we do. That’s one of the reasons we chose to build out our private data center the way we did.

In previous posts, I’ve gone into detail about how the server hardware choices ServInt makes have a huge impact on decreasing our carbon footprint. This is true now more than ever. As a basic example, in the last five years the number of cpu cores we can pack into a single rack of data center space for about the same price has multiplied roughly five-fold while the power consumption and cooling needs for that same rack have remained constant. (And this example does not even factor in the increased processing power of each core!) Committing to purchasing and deploying this new, more efficient hardware greatly reduces out power-to-customer ratio and keeps our carbon footprint in check.

But hardware is just one step. As we maximize the processing power in a rack, we also have to efficiently house and cool that rack. This is where the design of a datacenter really plays into shrinking our carbon footprint. As a general rule, the power required to cool and house servers is typically equal to 30 to 50 percent of the power needed to simply run those servers. Once you’ve picked your hardware platform, keeping the electrical requirements of cooling and infrastructure down is a central Green goal for environmentally sensitive hosts.

In most circles, air conditioning is not simply the punching bag of the Green movement, it is the devil itself. Nothing captures the essence of un-Green like the notion of cooling the interior of a building by literally pumping heat into the outside air… using fossil fuels… and leaving the windows open. But in intelligently designed, purpose-built data centers, we’re talking about well insulated, windowless rooms that are far more efficient than normal office or residential space. Still, when these rooms are filled with servers they can demand more than 40 times the cooling as the same amount of space in a typical residential home. There is simply no other way to keep servers from literally melting down than blasting cold air at them. Our business is hosting, but our byproduct is heat.

The modern data center facility helps greatly in minimizing the build-up of heat and efficiently removing it. From hot and cold aisles and forcing air directly to racks under raised floors to huge heat exchangers that tap into the cold air on a winter day and smart cooling units that are adaptive and work in sync to spool up or down as needed throughout a facility, engineers have come up with some downright ingenious solutions to efficiently deliver cold air to hot servers. And all these improvements have one goal: to reduce the electricity it takes to keep those cpu cores cool.

All of these and many other factors went into our decision about what type of new data center we would open. And they are just a few of the elements of our much larger Green Hosting Initiative, including the trees American Forests is continually planting to offset the carbon we cannot reduce directly.

If you’d like to see some pictures of our datacenters or some of the tree planting we have sponsored in recent years, check them out in our photos section on Facebook.

Photo by Pai Shih

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