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August 3, 2020

DataBank’s Adaptive Approach to Going Green

Initiatives in Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Elsewhere Highlight DataBank’s Unique Approach to Environmental Responsibility

Data centers consume tremendous amounts of electricity to power their servers, storage equipment, back-ups, and power cooling infrastructure. Last year alone, U.S. based data centers used more than 90 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, representing three percent of total U.S. electricity consumption. And that usage is growing. According to a recent AFCOM State of the Data Center survey, 70 percent of data center providers indicated that the power density per rack has increased significantly since 2013.

Within C-suites and among customers, there is a growing concern that the power demands of our digital infrastructure are having a major environmental impact, and it’s forcing data center managers and operators to find new ways to minimize that impact.

As an operator of 20 data centers across the U.S., DataBank is keenly aware of its environmental impact. Both our Data Center Evolved™ motto, and our corporate purpose – “To take the worry out of managing IT infrastructure” – have led us to continuously adapt our facilities and operations, finding ways to enhance our environmental responsibility while maintaining the highest levels of performance, reliability, and uptime.

Here are just a few examples of how DataBank has become a more responsible steward of our environmental impact.

Renewable Power Sources

DataBank’s Indianapolis data centers were the first to be 100% powered by renewable sources. Both IND1 and IND2 moved 100 percent of their combined electricity usage into a voluntary program that directs Indianapolis Power and Light to purchase renewable energy from wind farms and other midwestern facilities.  Through that program, DataBank will offset the carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 3,321 passenger cars driven for one year, or 84 railroad cars of coal burned.  Participants in the Indianapolis program help support the development of additional renewable energy sources, thereby helping to reduce reliance on fossil-fueled power.

In addition, DataBank recently announced that its MSP2 data center in Minneapolis is now 100% powered by renewable wind sources as part of the Wellspring program offered by Dakota Electric. Through the program, DataBank will purchase enough wind-generated power to cover all of MSPs 6MW power requirements for the next 5 years.

Economizer Cooling Strategies

Thousands of servers in a data center can generate tremendous heat which needs to be removed in order to keep sensitive electronic systems running. Massive air conditioning systems are the primary mechanism but they consume significant power. In colder climates and cooler seasons, the use of naturally cold external air helps reduce reliance on air conditioning compressor units and reduces power consumption, a methodology called “economization”.

DataBank operates economizer systems at data centers in DFW, MSP, ATL and SLC. Precision sensors measure the outside air temperature and humidity, and if conditions are appropriate, they open air dampeners to allow outside air in to cool the facility. The system closes those air dampeners when the conditions require a return to mechanical cooling. Much like opening a window at your house on a nice day, but fully autonomous with a sophisticated sensing and control sequence that maintains strict temperature and humidity parameters.

Environmentally Friendly Refrigerants

Air conditioning systems require refrigerant chemicals that can have a negative impact on our atmosphere – both by depleting ozone and contributing to global warming. A refrigerant’s global warming potential is referred to by its Global Warming Potential or “GWP” which compares one unit of that chemical’s contribution to global warming relative to CO2. Historically, a refrigerant called R22 has been the most commonly used chemical in air conditioning systems and had both a high GWP as well as a destructive impact on Ozone.

At DataBank, we have switched the vast majority of mechanical cooling systems over to R410a refrigerant which is the most efficient and environmental-friendly coolant available and we are exploring the use of another chemical called R32. Both R32 and R410a have largely replaced R22 due to their lack of Ozone impact and lower GWP.

Innovative Heat Recycling

While venting data center waste heat into the atmosphere may be efficient, DataBank realized that heat had value in other infrastructures and has creatively put it to use in our Atlanta data center: ATL1

DataBank’s ATL1 hosts the Georgia Tech “liquid cooled” supercomputer, which offers high performance computing to the institution’s faculty, professors, research scientists, graduate students, and its academic and government affiliates.  A water-cooled door chilling system in ATL1 affords DataBank the ability to scale up to 100kW per cabinet without having to take up additional space for cooling.  And in a singular twist, the heat and waste energy from the supercomputer is transferred to the chilled water, which then reaches 90 degrees and is then supplied to the building’s boilers for use by the other tenants.

Greener Backup Systems

Backup power systems are a critical component of any data center operation, keeping mission-critical applications running when there is an interruption to utility-provided power. These backup systems need to be reliable, scalable, efficient and use as little space as possible. Advanced, three phase UPS battery systems provide the most popular option providing smart, dependable power in a compact format. However, their use of lead acid chemicals isn’t environmentally friendly and they need to be replaced periodically.

To minimize this impact, DataBank has turned to an innovative combination of UPS batteries with flywheels. A flywheel system stores energy mechanically in the form of kinetic energy by spinning a mass at high speed. When used in conjunction with a battery-based UPS system, the flywheel systems take the first “hit” during a power disturbance, preserving the battery for use in longer-term outages and minimizing discharge cycles to prolong overall battery life.

Onsite Power Generation

Relying exclusively on utility power means a data center’s power costs will rise as overall demand rises. Being able to offset that cost at peak times with onsite power generation is a way to reduce costs and improve efficiency. DataBank has done just that at its ATL1 data center in Atlanta.

In partnership with the local utility, Georgia Power, DataBank has deployed a 1.5MW “microgrid” to support Georgia Tech’s High Performance Computing Center (HPCC) which is housed in ATL1. The microgrid runs in parallel to Georgia Power’s grid as an additional power source for ATL1. It senses power consumption and can export power to the facility in an emergency or simply at peak times to save costs.

The installation includes fuel cells, battery storage, diesel generators, and a natural gas generator, but is adaptive to new and additional distributed energy resources. It will also be able to accommodate microturbines, solar panels, and electric vehicle chargers in the future.

These are just a few of the ways DataBank is adapting and evolving the data center experience to provide better service for our customers and a better result for our environment.