JLL’s Dana Robbins Schneider explains how forethought and planning can drive significant energy savings for companies.
JLL Senior Vice President and energy and sustainability expert Dana Robbins Schneider recently addressed the topic of “accidental data centers” as a speaker at VERGE Salon NY: Next-Gen Buildings and Cities. We asked her to report back on the importance of the issue, and to walk us through preventative steps that can be taken to avoid unnecessary energy use.
Why are accidental data centers such an issue?
DS: Data centers are a very significant energy user for all organizations – in fact, they can account for up to 50 percent or more of a company’s energy use. However, what often happens in spaces is that proper planning doesn’t necessarily take place and certain requirements for IT, storage and computer uses can cause a data center to grow within a space that it wasn’t initially intended for. Server after server is added and companies can end up with a load that is much too high, proportionately, for the work it is doing. Often, the company may not even realize that appropriate sub-metering is not in place. This can result in operational costs being 30 to 40 percent higher than they need to be, because the massive load is simply draining energy.
From a wider perspective, across the U.S. buildings are the biggest users of energy, accounting for over 40 percent of all energy usage. In cities such as New York, this figure increases to over 70 percent of energy usage. Thus, in order to reduce total energy use, buildings must become our number one focus. With data centers being a significant contributor, often unnecessarily, to this high number, addressing the issue of accidental data centers becomes extremely important.
Where do you see accidental data centers occurring the most?
DS: In my experience, it’s most common to see them in typical office spaces where the company’s focus is not necessarily on the IT side. Even with the most technically-savvy organizations, the issue is fast growth and new requirements arising quickly. From an IT perspective, sometimes the quickest way to accommodate this growth is to just add a new server to a room.
How can accidental data centers be avoided?
DS: Accidental data centers are definitely preventable – proper space planning and forethought is essential. During the design stage, companies need to take the time to consider what their need is currently and what it will be in the future. There are a number of different solutions that will help to reduce the overall load and organizations need to decide what makes the most sense for them – whether that be mission critical for back up, outsourcing to the cloud, going to a virtualization, or a blended approach.
Knowing what you need upfront and being responsible in your data center design allows you to have just the right amount of servers that you’ll need, and a room designed in the most efficient way – using as little energy as possible while also preserving the integrity of the servers and the equipment, and minimizing risk.
Can organizations still address an accidental data center even if they have been in their space for some time?
DS: Absolutely – it will be very obvious to companies if they are in this situation because they will have a room the size of a small office that will be jammed with servers and different equipment, supporting a huge space. You can certainly go in and fix it, and while it may seem like a little bit of a cost to get it right, you’ll certainly see that payback in terms of energy savings later on, as well as through increased reliability.