Net Environmental Benefit (NEB); A Data Center Metric to Satisfy Greenpeace

Environmentalists crack me up.  I dated one once when I was in the Navy.  I’ll call her Mary for the purposes of this story.   One evening during our brief relationship, I was telling Mary some (unclassified) stories about submarine life.  I casually mentioned that we spend a lot of time shooting sea slugs for practice.  Mary was shocked and appalled. 

For those of you unfamiliar with subs, when you test torpedo firing systems on a fast attack you fill the torpedo tubes with seawater and fire the “slug” of water as if it were an actual torpedo.  It’s a good simulation and completely harmless.  However, in Mary’s imagination, we were prowling the ocean floor, hunting unwary sea slugs and blowing them into watery oblivion. I probably should have corrected Mary’s thinking but it was too much fun watching her agonize over the harmless sea creatures we were cruelly using for target practice.

That should be the end of the story…but it’s not.  Mary and I broke up after a few weeks.  She didn’t seem to take it too badly at the time.  But, the next time our crew returned to port, we found flyers under the windshield wipers on every car in long term parking.  The flyers pleaded in bold letters, “Save the Sea Slugs!” and went on to describe the Navy’s cruel vendetta against harmless marine animals.  The flyer demanded that naval officials cease the caviler and unnecessary destruction of sea life.  Oh my, how we laughed!

I hoped that I was done with this type of nonsense when I left the Navy and entered the data center industry.  No such luck.  Environmentalist juggernaut Greenpeace has been after Facebook for building data centers in areas where the percentage of electricity generated by coal is too high for their tastes.  Greenpeace rallied over 180,000 followers to their “Unfriend Coal” campaign.  Never mind that Facebook’s data centers are among the most energy efficient and environmentally sustainable buildings ever built.  Never mind that Facebook has shared every efficiency strategy that they employed through the Open Compute project. As a result of Open Compute, the entire data center industry has been able to achieve a more efficient posture.

Facebook has not been the only data center to draw fire from Greenpeace.  Greenpeace has also targeted Apple’s data centers.  Never mind that the Apple data centers are marvels of energy efficiency and sustainable design.  Never mind that Apple is building the largest end user owned solar array in the country at their Maiden, NC data center.  Never mind that Apple is also building the largest biogas/fuel cell installation (outside of utility) in the US at the same data center.  The commitment to the development of green/alternative energy technology demonstrated by Apple is unparalleled.   

In Greenpeace’s misguided and myopic view, data centers consume large amounts of electricity and are therefore bad.  The reality is that these facilities are on the bleeding edge of energy conservation and sustainable design.  These data center are monuments to the fact that the companies that built them and the data center industry as a whole cares deeply about conservation is actively advancing building efficiency to staggering new levels.    

Greenpeace is also missing the big picture at an even more profound level.  Environmentalists should actually applaud the construction of data centers.  Here’s why; data centers are built and applied to existing business models because data center technology provides a business delivery efficiency improvement over the previous business paradigm.  These improvements in business delivery efficiency (usually) result in a net environmental benefit. 

For example; Facebook builds a bunch of data centers and suddenly 800M people share 60B photos online.  As a result, the kiosks, drug stores and grocery stores that used to process film and print photos on paper see that business almost completely disappear.  The home photo printer industry also flattens and begins to decline.  That’s a massive business delivery paradigm shift.  Digital photo sharing on this scale is only possible by applying data center technology.  Now, imagine the net environmental impact of all of those people NOT driving their film or memory card to the store, NOT consuming photo developing chemicals, NOT mailing pictures to relatives, NOT purchasing replacement ink for their printers.  How many miles were not driven?  How many toxic chemical not used?

Amazon is another great example.  Brick and mortar book stores and print media in general are in decline.  Amazon built a more efficient business model to deliver that content to readers.  That business model was enabled by the application of data center technology.  Again, how many miles to the book store were NOT travelled?  How many buildings NOT constructed?  How many trees were NOT felled for their paper?

Both of these examples only scratch the surface of the net environmental benefit enabled by data center technology.

What the data center industry (and the companies that use the technology) need is a new metric.  I’ll call it Net Environmental Benefit (NEB).  NEB will encompass all of the benefits that are enabled by data centers and boil it down to handy three digit integer in units of megatons of carbon.  It will be a bear to calculate but next time the Greenpeace nitwits start protesting, Facebook can roll out its astronomical NEB and squash them with it.


A novel approach to data center staffing

Equipment failures in data center environments never happen at opportune times.  For example, your UPS isn’t likely to fail at 2:00 in the afternoon on a Tuesday when everyone you need to respond to the causality is conveniently in the building.  Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law demands that failures will occur at the worst possible time.  Calamity invariably strikes when critical personnel are vacationing, snug in their beds or hopelessly bogged down in cross town traffic. 

This unfortunate (and statistically improbable) truth is one of the reasons the Uptime Institute’s Tier Standard: Operational Sustainability requires 7×24 staffing for higher Tier Level data centers.  In order to achieve true high uptime, personnel often need to take immediate, appropriate action.  Having key personnel respond to alarms by getting in their cars and driving to the facility just doesn’t cut it and is not a recipe for maximum uptime.

True story; a single-shift data center I worked with was struck by a midnight critical power failure during a severe ice storm.  The facility manager tried to drive to the data center but ended up sliding off an icy road and into a ditch.  The brave facility manager tried to talk a security guard through transferring critical power to an alternate source via cell phone as paramedics loaded him into the back of an ambulance.  Needless to say, the facility was dark for a painfully long time on that night.

Unfortunately, around the clock data center staffing is an expensive proposition.  Most staffing models require at least seven people to safely staff a 7×24 data center.  (With a staff of seven you will still have coverage gaps related to vacations and sick days.)  When you factor burden rates for seven well trained data center engineers, 7×24 staffing can easily exceed $1M/year.

Many data centers find these costs prohibitively high and look for ways to have key personnel handy at a reasonable price.  For example, the data center that experienced the ice storm now puts key personnel in nearby hotels when there’s a threat of inclement weather.  Since only a portion of data center failures are weather related, this strategy is a half step at best.

A few data centers in Europe have found a novel way to tackle the issues of having critical personnel around when they are needed.  London based data centers are anticipating a perfect storm of high data usage, paralyzing gridlock and unprecedented strain on electrical transmission infrastructure during the upcoming Olympics.  In order to ensure that key personnel are not stranded opposite a wall of tourists and sports fans, colocation provider Interexion has purchased a number of sleep pods and placed them in the data center.

Photo: Interexion

Interexion is not alone in adopting this strategy.  PodTime, the manufacturer of the sleeping pods is reporting that they have sold 19 units to 3 colocation providers since February of this year.     

These pods look pretty comfy to me.  However, I spent months on end sleeping in considerably closer quarters aboard US Navy submarines.  What I’m wondering is where these guys clean up.  Fortunately, there are probably emergency safety showers in the battery room.  Seems reasonable to me.  But then, I’ve showered under considerably worse conditions too.  ;0)  Would you sleep in a pod for your data center?

Cyber Security for Data Center Infrastructure Webinar

I’ll be speaking at AFCOM Data Center World in Vegas next month.  If you can’t make it to Vegas (or you simply can’t wait to hear me talk about cyber security) please join the FREE Meet-A-Speaker Webinar.

I’ll be discussing cyber weapons that target ICS/SCADA systems and their potential to disrupt data center infrastructure.

Details and registration information can be found here.

Some of the information I’ll be covering can be found in my blog post on this subject here.

Hope you can make it!

AT&T Announces New Construction in NC Data Center Cluster

On Wednesday, AT&T announced plans to build a 900,000 square foot data center facility in Cleveland County, NC. 

I’ve posted a number of times on activity in the North Carolina data center cluster.  AT&T will be joining a distinguished roster of data centers that have decided to set up shop in North Carolina.  The list includes; 

  • T5 Data Centers (Wholesale data center provider)
  • Wipro Infocrossing (Managed services and cloud provider)
  • Disney
  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Apple
  • Cisco
  • EMC
  • American Express
  • NetApp
  • IBM

Why all the data center construction in North Carolina?  A number of factors make this area a prime location.

  • Utility incentives friendly to data centers
    • Electricity is cheap, cheap, cheap!  (3.9-4.6 cents/kw-hr)
    • Electrical grid is reliable with multiple substation feeds available
    • Forward thinking utility provider Duke Energy
      • Solid long term plan for nuclear and renewable energy production
      • Industry leader in deployment of “green energy” and “smart grid” technologies
      • Waived utility connection fees
    • Fresh water is plentiful and inexpensive
    • Existing civil infrastructure require only small inprovements to support data centers (roads, city water, county water, waste water etc…)
    • Plenty of fiber. (AT&T, RST, PalmettoNet, TWC, DukeNet, Zayo & others)
  • Climate and environment
    • Cool climate is favorable to “free cooling” strategies
    • Area is geologically stable and not prone to earthquakes
    • Area is not prone to weather related natural disasters
    • Plenty of sunshine for solar.  (Apple recently announced a 20MW solar farm for their Maiden, NC data center)
  • NC government incentives friendly to data centers
    • Generous tax breaks
    • Waiving of building, zoning and development permit fees

Congrats to our friends in NC!  Another amazing win. 

Microsoft looking for data center property in Atlanta?

The Atlanta Business Chronicle is reporting that Microsoft may be scouting the Atlanta area for a new data center campus.  It appears that Microsoft is seeking 50-60 acres in the Lithia Springs area just east of downtown Atlanta. 

Lithia Springs is already home to a number of large data centers including Google, Synovus and Savvis

50-60 acres is huge chunk of land for data center development and indicates that Microsoft may be considering a very significant development in the Atlanta area.  

Important Nuclear Power Meeting Today in Atlanta

Representatives from the Southern Company are meeting with US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials today in Atlanta.  The NRC is expected to give its final verdict on a critical (pun intended) construction license for two new reactors at Plant Vogtle in South Georgia.

Plant Vogtle following construction

If approved, the reactors at Vogtle will be the first new American reactors in 30 years.

Protesters have started gathering outside the Federal building in Atlanta.  Fears that arose as a result of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster (follow the link for some amazing NatGeo pictures from inside Fukushima) 11 months ago are at the top of the protester’s rhetoric.  The protesters include at least 9 groups that intend to challenge the project in Federal court. 

The new reactors will be Westinghouse’s Generation III+, AP1000 design.  The long term plan for America’s fleet of aging nuclear reactors includes the replacement of the pre-1970’s era General Electric boiling water reactor design with the advanced safety and technology package found in the AP1000.  The Vogtle project will be a significant first step in the badly needed technology refresh for American nuclear power.

One would think that protesters with Fukushima fears would be eager to see these new safer reactor technologies deployed.  Even the most ardent environmentalists have started to see the light that nuclear power has advantages over fossil fuel power generation technologies.  These warming views on nuclear power have been reinforced in recent weeks by controversies surrounding hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas and Federal roadblocks to use of oil extracted from Canadian tar sands.  

If approved, Vogtle Units 2 and 3 could be a major boon to economic development throughout the Southeastern Region.  According to Georgia Trend Magazine, “Site construction employment is expected to peak at 3,500 jobs during 2013 and 2014, with 800 new permanent employees needed to staff the new units when they begin operation in 2016 and 2017.”

In addition, the availability of plenty of electrical power will be an attractive feature for all types of industrial and commercial enterprises looking for new location.  Data center site selection criteria, in particular, values the availability of cheap, reliable and plentiful power very highly. 

Hopefully, the NRC will approve Southern Company’s construction license and the construction of Vogtle Units 2 and 3 will move forward.  This will lead to:

  • High paying construction jobs
  • Long term employment opportunities for nuclear trained personnel
  • New incentives for employers seeking to locate in the Southeast
  • A favorable environment for future data center construction
  • More reliable and safe nuclear power technology deployed in the US
  • And (of course) reduced dependence on foreign oil          


Digital Realty purchases another Atlanta Data Center

The Atlanta Business Chronicle is reporting that wholesale data center giant Digital Realty (DLR) has completed the purchase of “a 334,000-square-foot data center near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in a $63 million sale leaseback transaction…”

DLR and the Atlanta Business Chronicle were careful not to release too many specifics about the data center.  However, if you have worked in the Atlanta data center market for any length of time you know they are probably talking about the Delta Airlines Data Center on Doug Davis Drive down in Hapeville.

According to the Business Chronicle, the seller was a ““major airline” that will continue to use 167,000 square feet of space in the building. The rest the data center facility is leased to a “leading provider of critical transaction processing solutions to companies operating in the global travel industry.””

If the acquired data center is the Delta Airlines data center, that leading provider of “critical transaction processing solutions” would be Travelport.  Delta and Travelport have shared the Hapeville data center for some time.

This acquisition should be good news for everyone involved.  Digital Realty is a top tier data center firm that intimately understands the role of data centers in the success of a business venture.  Their expertise and experience should ensure that the Delta data center is efficiently and expertly operated.  In addition, the sale of the building should provide Delta with a fresh injection of capital for technology upgrades.

This acquisition is the 3rd Atlanta data center owned by Digital Realty.  The others being:

  • 375 Riverside Dr, Atlanta
  • 101 Aquila Way, Atlanta

Digital Realty’s portfolio of properties includes nearly 100 data centers in North America and 12 more in Europe and Asia.  Their construction practice has built “over $2.5 billion in data center facilities for companies ranging in size from small collocation firms to Fortune 500 corporations.”