QTS 2012: Continuing the Quest for Data Center Energy Efficiency

By: Neeraj Mokha, 2012 EDF Climate Corps fellow at QTS, MBA Candidate at Case Western Reserve University, Weatherhead School of Management
 

Organization: Quality Technology Services (QTS)

Opportunity: 3 million square feet of data center space

Challenge: Data centers require plenty of energy 

Quality Technology Services (QTS) announced yesterday it hired Sukrit Sehgal, QTS’s 2011 EDF Climate Corps fellow, as its first ever director of sustainability. Sehgal will work in the company’s newly created Sustainability and Recoveries Group. Even more exciting (for me!), is that QTS hired me as its second EDF Climate Corps fellow to drive further steps toward energy efficiency this summer.

While many of Sehgal’s recommendations from last summer are either complete or underway at QTS, the company has challenged me to identify even more efficiency opportunities in 2012. It’s quite a task, and I’ve got big shoes to fill.

QTS is one of the largest and fastest growing data center providers in the United States, managing more than 3 million square feet of data center infrastructure coast-to-coast. In addition to conventional data center energy challenges, QTS also faces entirely unique challenges due to the nature of its service as a multi-tenant data center (MTDC) provider.

Conventional Data Center Challenges

Standard data center energy management is tough. Servers require consistently low temperature and low humidity for optimal performance. Plus, customers’ IT infrastructures need to be up and running 24/7. Hence, energy-intensive cooling and dehumidification technologies must work around the clock.

Multi-Tenant Data Center Challenges

To understand MTDC challenges, it is important to understand colocation. Customers bring their servers to a colocation facility, where they are then managed as tenants by a colocation provider like QTS. Providers manage clients of varying sizes with highly diverse requirements for humidity, power, space, temperature, etc.

Solutions

Both types of challenges prove the need to constantly monitor energy use, as we do here at QTS. And we’ve seen enormous opportunities for even further operational cost savings through energy efficiency. Here are some of the steps we're focusing on this summer:

1. Establishing Policies to Increase Employee Involvement
QTS conducts internal competitions among its 12 sites, offering monthly rewards for identifying useful practices at data centers and allowing innovative ideas to surface from across the organization.

2. Recording Metrics
By increasing the number of sites that report data on Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE) and Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE), one can help quantify the return on investment for energy efficiency to senior management and stakeholders. As any Climate Corps fellow knows, energy efficiency leads to better business and greater sustainability, but that's hard to show without the measurements to back it.

3. Staying Knowledgeable about Incentives and Rebates
Familiarity with tax credits accelerated solar projects at QTS’s Richmond and Atlanta facilities earlier this year. Continuing to be on the lookout for available energy incentives and rebates will help QTS prioritize future energy plans.

In addition to energy efficiency solutions, I’m also looking at utilizing “grey water”– recycled water used to cool facilities – which QTS already does in its Santa Clara facility and is looking to do at other sites.

It’s clear that continuously evaluating sustainability efforts has the potential to uncover hidden savings, especially when it comes to energy usage at data centers – and the QTS team gets this. I’m looking forward to seeing what we uncover this summer. Stay tuned!

EDF Climate Corps places specially trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.