Energy Efficiency at Data Centers, Vantage Way

The first of my 2012 interviews is with Greg Ness, Marketing Vice President, Vantage Data Centers. Until I saw him, I did not realize that I often used to read his blog. He also writes on data center and IT infrastructure here.

Greg Ness in the lobby of V3 Vantage Data Center.

Actually, this is not my first visit to their site. Back in November 2010, I attended a meeting there sponsored by Critical Facilities Roundtable. At that time, there were two buildings (V1 and V3) on campus that were owned by Intel and sold to Vantage just prior to the meeting. We had a meeting at V1 (well, actually before it became V1) and toured a partially completed V3 (yes, before it became V3). They added a brand-new building that is called V2, which was a large parking lot then. Right now, both V2 and V3 are ready for occupancy. V3 has three customers (one of them is Mozilla), and V2 is leased to a single unnamed customer. V1 is still undergoing renovation. The order of completion is V3, V2, V1.

All the specifications of each data center as well as their pictures can be found here:

But for busy readers, I summarized some basic information in the following table.

V1

V2

V3

Status

Under construction

Completed & occupied

Completed & occupied

Structure

2 stories

1 story

1 story

IT load

22 MW

9 MW

6 MW

Power density

150–400 W/sq. ft.

200 W/sq. ft.

150 W/sq. ft.

Space

110K sq. ft.

45K sq. ft.

40K sq. ft.

Floor

Slab/raised floor

Slab

Raised floor

For more details, visit the respective pages. The total IT load of 37 MW is supported with a dedicated substation (50 MW) on campus.

 
 
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They also are building a data center in Quincy, WA, to exploit abundant and cheap hydropower, thanks to the Columbia River, as the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, and Google did.

There are a lot of data centers in Santa Clara, mainly because of the:

  • Reliable power (good mix of green power) with a competitive pricing structure from Silicon Valley Power Company, owned by the city of Santa Clara.
  • Abundant fiber connections close to a NAP.
  • Nearby large businesses like Intel and Yahoo (Google, Apple, HP, Cisco, and Oracle are not far from Santa Clara) and technology startups.
  • Favorable weather for natural cooling, a.k.a. airside economizer.

I have visited data centers by Terremark, Digital Realty, and DuPont Fabros before, which are in the vicinity of the Vantage centers. They all cited the reasons above for selecting Santa Clara. They are alike in some ways and different in others.

Is it good to be in the data center business now, even in this time of recession? Absolutely! As you’ve probably heard from several sources, data centers are in high demand. At the first wave of the Internet, it was said that “if you build it, they will come.” At that time, “it” was fiber cable infrastructure. I will not be too far wrong if I apply the same quote to data centers.

Briefly, demand is high because:

  • Many more things are online (cloud, mobile, sensors, and EV)—the Internet of things.
  • Building and maintaining a data center is very expensive.
  • Construction takes a relatively long time (12 to18 months), which delays go-to-market timing.
  • Data centers require highly skilled experts to handle ever-increasing IT demands, but acquisition of such expertise is hard, time-consuming, and costly.

Vantage is on this wave.

The following is a summary of the visit and the discussion I had with Greg.

Several features differentiate Vantage from others. But one thing that stuck in my mind is LEED certification. They want to certify all four of their data centers as LEED Platinum. V3 has been awarded it already (see the sign next to Greg in the picture above), and V2 is prequalified as Platinum. Greg told me that they exceeded even the Platinum requirements, and the US Green Building Council (USGB) folks are considering incorporating the additional Vantage features into the certification.

At this time, there is no version of the LEED certification specifically for data centers, but it has become the de facto standard used in the data center market to brag on how green their data centers are. EPA has finally nailed down a version of Energy Star for data centers, which indicates a certain level of energy efficiency, but it has not caught on yet.

Speaking of catching on, PUE has caught on with almost everyone in the data center industry, but it has been misused to promote data centers too much. Power consumption by IT equipment can vary depending on where you measure—such places as UPS, PDU, or IT equipment. Also, PUE changes with the time of day as well as with the weather and the season. Many operators used to report their best PUE to claim how green they were. To correct this and standardize the way PUE is measured, Green Grid has issued a few papers on it. Most recently, they emphasized that PUE should be based on energy instead of power and that each PUE should be qualified depending on where power to IT equipment is measured. In my conversation with Greg, this new PUE was not mentioned. By the way, they measure the IT power consumption at the PDU, which is quite good because they do not have the means to get to their customers’ IT equipment. The PDUs are a demarcation between their responsibilities and their customers’. In this way, they can clearly see each responsibility and have a good basis for the PUE calculation.

As has been said in many places, PUE by itself should not be used as a marketing tool but rather to compare progress on your own data center energy efficiency. The PUE numbers for V3 and V2 are estimated to be between 1.10 and 1.30. V2’s number (which has not yet been announced) will be better primarily because it is a brand-new construction. You can design energy efficiency into a new data center from the ground up. In spite of heavy modifications, retrofitted buildings inherit the old shell and design and cannot be made to comply completely with your new energy efficient scheme.

Another differentiation is the reliability of power and cooling. With a few exceptions, they employed the 2N or mesh policy to guarantee reliability for such things as UPS and generators. A data center supports the nation’s information and trade infrastructure; it cannot fail and must have a high level of availability and reliability.

Greg, like Jim Trout, their CEO, said that Vantage comes close to Google, Microsoft, and Facebook in terms of energy efficiency. It is not fair to compare a wholesaler data center player like Vantage with them. It is like comparing the performance of an embedded system with a system that runs software developed independent of a hardware platform. Because you can control and tune both software and hardware in an embedded system, your performance is better than in a system consisting of independently built software and hardware. A data center operator cannot influence their tenants too much. However, in the case of their V2, Vantage worked closely with the single tenant, who signed a lease during construction, reflecting their IT requirements for energy efficiency. Of course, they could not dictate which IT equipment to use or its basic design, as Google and Facebook did to their internal IT group.

What about the downside of this? If the building was spec’d to a specific customer, it is great for that customer. But is it good for Vantage? What if the customer goes bankrupt or leaves for any other reason? Aren’t they stuck with a data center too tailored to be used by other clients?

The answer to this question is twofold:

  • If the building were designed to be super energy efficient, it would last 20 years rather than 5 to 10 years, which is typical of data centers in the past. No significant retrofitting would be required for the next customer.
  • If the customer goes under, it is likely that their IT equipment would be left there, and that might attract other customers.

Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tools are being talked about everywhere. For a wholesaler like Vantage, they only need to monitor and control the facilities side of the house and not IT. For that they use IBS.  Incidentally, I will moderate a panel session, and one of the panelists is from Equinix, a colocation provider that does not need to measure IT equipment either. I wonder what she will say about it.

In V3, a raised floor with three separate caged areas is employed, instead of a slab floor. This allows customers to adjust airflow on the basis of their usage and configuration. However, the cold/hot isle configuration is pre-architected with the ceiling heat damper. So unless customers do not want to follow one of the best practices of energy efficiency, their rack configurations cannot be drastically different to exploit this preconfiguration. Each customer is allocated a single PDU, which allows up to 3 MW of power. As for cooling, both V2 and V3 employ airside economizer. In addition, V1 and V3 use chiller for cooling, but V2 does not. The customer in V2 does not want to use water and uses DX instead.

It is sometimes more profitable to conduct business at a higher level. So rather than competing at the infrastructure level, Vantage may want to provide a service like hosting private clouds. But I was told that they would strictly stay on their core of competency and the area of their strength, which is providing the best efficient mechanical and power support. Something like hosting private cloud is left to their alliance partners, like Telx. Incidentally, on this tour, I bumped into an old friend of mine who works at Telx and will try to get time with him to discuss their services.

What I liked most is that Greg wanted to make some of their ways of energy efficiency available by showing how they do it, so that the entire data center industry gets improved. The way things are going, more demand for data centers is expected, and this market is one of the rare segments that do not know what the recession means.

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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