Vantage Data Centers: Balancing growth with the needs of the environment
With the sustainable environment very much in the public's consciousness, Abed Jishi, Senior Director for Design and Construction at Vantage Data Centers, shares how his industry can not only mitigate, but also fully adopt rapidly emerging climate demands.
After well publicised global demonstrations and political summits last year, the environment and sustainability are expected to be top of mind across all industries, including the rapidly expanding data centre industry.
Eyes of the world
The eyes of politicians and people around the world are on how much energy all industry uses. Despite the data centre industry only consuming around 1 percent of the world’s electricity, it arguably gets more attention than some others, as a result of its household name clients, such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, and their increasing power needs to support rapid market growth.
It's certainly been an exciting growth period at international data centre operator Vantage Data Centers, with the previously US-focused company moving into the European market in February, through the acquisition of data centre operator Etix Everywhere and UK-based Next Generation Data, Europe’s Largest Data Center Campus.
It has also recently secured an investment partnership with Colony Capital worth US$3.5bn to aid future operational growth across Europe and North America. Vantage is currently building new data centres in Berlin, Milan, Warsaw, Frankfurt and Zurich.
Dealing with the demands
With extensive international design and construction experience gained in several and complex environments, Vantage's Abed Jishi acknowledges sustainability expectations and calls on the data centre industry to do its bit to alleviate the concerns. He says: “If you want to do something positive around these issues, you have to look at achieving sustainability through design, a key business initiative at our company.
To help achieve environmental goals you have to closely look at the sourcing and performance of your data centre equipment, adopt energy proficient designs and make sure you carry on efficiently managing operations.”
Jishi also explains that different parts of the business have to learn from other parts. “If we have a useful environmental feature at a Virginia, US data centre, for instance, it's important that we spread the knowledge and expertise and try and adopt it at other facilities, both for the benefit of the environment and our bottom line.”
The company has done this with the way it helps cool the thousands of servers in its data centres. It started to use outside air/ambient air at some of its locations a while ago, which saw the “free air” pulled into its buildings to reduce artificial cooling usage and reduced Vantage’s energy bill.
The system is now being adopted by all Vantage locations, along with LED lighting and extensive recycling, which is helping the company achieve the sought-after Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for its buildings. It has reached the top LEED Platinum status at some locations. Another sustainable initiative that is currently being implemented and tested is the use of solar panels on roofs.
“There is always a race against other companies to show a lead in this area, but these are all sustainability tools that Vantage is now familiar with,” Jishi says.
At the moment, Vantage is building one of a number of new data centre campuses in Frankfurt, Germany, one of the industry's busiest markets in Europe. Here, data centre operators serve the data needs of top German and international brands and the global financial industry.
The 15 megawatt facility there had to be “exceptional”, said Jishi, as it's in a “very dense” data centre market.
We are doing our best and have the lowest power usage effectiveness (PUE) in the neighbourhood.”
PUE is a ratio that shows how efficiently a data centre uses energy, specifically, the total amount of energy used by a facility in relation to the energy actually delivered to the computing equipment to process data.
The lower the ratio number, the better the efficiency – the number range between 1 and 1.15 is the industry's best rating. The more tools you use to reduce the energy used by parts of the data centre not used to crunch data – like lighting, cooling and heating – the better the PUE.
At Frankfurt, the company has incorporated the previously mentioned environmental techniques, along with electric vehicle charging points and extensive green landscaping – even though it wasn't requested to do so by the local council.
The firm is also building another campus in Zurich, Switzerland, where a green living roof is being established, solar panels being installed and a heat recovery system fitted to redistribute heat around the building, along with vehicle charging points being included.
“Where possible”, says Jishi, “we look to recruit local talents to run our facilities too, it's a target for all our markets to be wedded to the local community and win buy-in to what we're doing”.
Building environmentally friendly solutions into corporate operations obviously costs, and it's all about getting the balance right between these costs and the potential benefits.
Jishi notes: “We obviously consider our costs very closely, particularly when it comes to capex. While environmental initiatives do cost, they are now also a high priority for the company and for our customers, and we think this situation will continue in the market. Customers are asking for sustainable developments, and we are strongly committed to aligning with the mission of our customers.”
Sustainability is a personal goal for me and I imagine for an increasing number of other executives, too."
"Only about five years ago, if you approached a utility company to access greener energy – through wind, solar or other sources – they would tell you it 'wasn't feasible', but that's all changed in most cases.”
He adds, “there's less of a business risk in adopting greener alternatives, with it now being easier to procure them and being more cost-effective as well. There's also plenty of business support and advice out there for any executives looking to plan sustainability.”
Headwinds may continue to spiral about what industry should do to protect the environment, to satisfy politicians, partners, citizens and customers, but Vantage is clear it is tackling the challenge head on.
It’s an exciting time for the business. Jishi says: "Sustainability is being built into our culture and operations across the group. This is not only good for Vantage but for our customers, business ecosystem and the environment as a whole."