EasyStreet Keeps its Data Centers Trouble-Free with Green Technology
Sustainability meets pioneered design.
EasyStreet buys 100% renewable power offsets for both data centers as part of the Portland General Electric Clean Wind Program.
“Three years ago, we started buying wind offset credits for our first data center. We initially bought offsets for fifty percent of our power consumption. We gave our colocation customers the opportunity to participate in that program: pay a small up-charge to be able to put a Portland General Electric Clean Wind logo on their website, which means that we’re all participating in the program together,” said Jon Crowhurst, director of technical services for EasyStreet. The company has now received confirmation from the utility that both data centers are zero carbon footprint energy consumers. According to Crowhurst, “that’s part of our plan moving forward.”
PIONEERING DATA CENTER DESIGN
Due to the energy efficiencies gained compared to conventional data center designs, this is the first data center project to qualify for funding through the Oregon Department of Energy’s Small Scale Energy Loan Program (SELP). With the help of the Energy Trust of Oregon, EasyStreet played a pioneering role in developing the Oregon Department of Energy’s expertise in the area of efficient data center design. Through careful planning and implementation of energy smart technologies and systems, EasyStreet estimates that it will be able to save 1,532,634 kilowatts (kW) a year ⎯ enough energy to power 153 average households.
EasyStreet, which has won many accolades for its business and green initiatives — including being an EPA Green Power Partner — offers a wide selection of data center-based and Internet-access solutions. Some customers want the flexibility and control that comes with EasyStreet's colocation services. Others prefer managed-server or cloud offerings with EasyStreet responsible for administration and monitoring of system hardware and software, backed by Service Level Agreements (SLAs). Regardless of the type of service EasyStreet provides, “each component of the data center's design was evaluated for its contribution to overall sustainability. The completed facility signifies what the company thinks a data center should be — reliable, redundant, flexible, and sustainable,” said Crowhurst.
Numerous technologies have been deployed by Crowhurst to meet the company’s sustainability initiatives; however, two stand out as the primary sources of reduced energy costs at the facility: indirect evaporative cooling (IEC) technology and environmentally friendly flywheels.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in low-humidity areas, evaporating water into the air provides a natural and energy-efficient means of cooling. Evaporative coolers rely on this principle, cooling outdoor air by passing it over water-saturated pads, causing the water to evaporate into it. The 15°F to 40° cooler air is then directed into the facility, pushing out warmer air through windows.
IEC operates by the same fundamental concept as evaporative cooling (evaporating water to cool the air), except that cooling is achieved without adding moisture to the supply air stream. Various formats are available for indirect evaporative coolers, many of which are capable of cooling well beyond the wetbulb temperature — the temperature one feels when one’s skin is wet and is exposed to moving air. The Western Cooling Efficiency Center “sees indirect evaporative cooling as one of the primary energy efficient ways to cool hot, dry air typical of Western climates.”
When Crowhurst first heard about indirect evaporative cooling at a green data center conference years ago, it was briefly mentioned and quickly passed over, but he was intrigued. With IEC, cooling towers are coupled with air-handling units (AHUs) to create one unit that allows for outside air to be forced inside; multiple units can be deployed. At the time, not many manufacturers were doing it, and even less were achieving cost-effective outcomes. Crowhurst continued the research and was rewarded when he found AMAX, a company that offered a cost-effective option for EasyStreet to obtain the parts and do its own install.
There was considerable design-build interaction between EasyStreet, the mechanical engineer, and the mechanical contractor to achieve a workable solution that met the data center’s needs. Although the parts were obtained from AMAX, a local Portland mechanical engineering firm designed the complex ductwork system that had to be coupled with piping design for the water portion of the cooling system, and the firm handled the installation. Johnson Controls was brought in to design the custom control system and completed the hardware/software integration.
The result was a low-maintenance, high-efficiency, reliable cooling plant. EasyStreet now deploys four IEC units with ten more planned for installation. The units share common supply ducts, so if one unit is taken offline for maintenance, the others ramp up to cover the loss, establishing N+ arbitrary redundancy.
One measure of a data center's power efficiency is its power usage effectiveness (PUE) which is the ratio of total power consumed by the facility for IT, cooling, lighting, etc., divided by the power consumed by IT gear. The best PUE is as close as possible to 1.0. The IEC method deployed by EasyStreet represents a PUE addition of approximately .12. A traditional data is typically above 2.0.
Also, within the EasyStreet data center, system uptime and availability are prime concerns.
“Making sure that customer’s computing systems have available power is paramount to not only keeping systems up and running at high nines (9s) of availability, but for us to keep operating as a viable company. Power outages, if not remedied, can cost organizations thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars every minute computing systems go down. If EasyStreet can’t maintain power integrity, customers will go elsewhere,” said Crowhurst.
The majority of data center power consumption that can be made green is the cooling system; however, Crowhurst and his team extended their green design throughout the data center, including the purchase of energy efficient uninterruptible power systems (UPSs) and energy-efficient transformers. When it came to considering the UPS, it was obvious that a battery-based UPS would not meet EasyStreet’s sustainability initiatives.
“Batteries are not environmentally friendly, as you can imagine,” said Crowhurst. Valve regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries are inherently problematic to the environment, as they contain toxic chemicals and have to be frequently replaced. Another important point is that batteries require expensive cooling in order to operate per specification. If not properly cooled, for example, batteries will degrade, quickly putting the power protection infrastructure at risk.
Reliability is the major concern. “We have two battery-based UPSs that we’ve had for almost twelve years. While the UPSs themselves have been reliable, we’ve experienced three failures of the batteries. We do preventive maintenance every quarter as the factory recommends and still we weren’t able to avoid battery failures,” said Crowhurst. One bad cell in one battery of a chain of lead-acid batteries is enough to bring down the whole set. They also require an excessive amount of testing, monitoring, and maintenance to ensure against such occurrences.
For EasyStreet, building a new data center meant looking at all the green technologies available; reliability was always the number one consideration. So when it came to energy storage, Crowhurst looked to flywheels. An important consideration of implementing flywheels is that they had to be able to work with double-conversion UPSs.
Flywheel systems store and deliver a reliable source of DC power utilizing the kinetic energy of a high-speed flywheel. Compatible with major brands of three-phase UPSs, the systems interface with the DC bus of the UPS, just like a bank of batteries, receiving charging current from the UPS and providing DC current to the UPS inverter during discharge.
Another key advantage for EasyStreet is the significant space savings of the flywheel systems over batteries. A battery plant is approximately three times the size of a comparable-sized flywheel. “As a colo, space is a precious commodity. The more space we have, the more we can accommodate our customers’ servers and other computing assets,” affirmed Crowhurst.
Flywheel systems were not new to EasyStreet as they had experience with one from another manufacturer for their previous data center. However, maintaining and replacing bearings with a cost of nearly $10,000 every few years was an issue. “Having to replace the bearings in the other flywheel system is a relatively expensive maintenance operation, and the unit is out of service for six to eight hours,” stated Crowhurst.
In the new data center, EasyStreet has three flywheels running in parallel with double-conversion UPS. If there’s a power outage, the 300 kW flywheel systems act as a bridge that seamlessly transfers to the facility’s diesel-engine generators. Crowhurst explains why backup batteries are not needed.
“Having thirty minutes or half an hour of batteries is, in my opinion, pointless. If the generator doesn’t start in the first thirty seconds, there’s nothing you can do. If you had two generator mechanics with their tools in hand, standing next to the generator and you said, ‘I need this fixed in fourteen minutes,’ they’d both laugh at you, because there’s nothing that can be done to diagnose or repair a problem with the generator in the time allowed. A well maintained generator plant doesn’t need fifteen minutes of batteries,” he said.
As EasyStreet’s new data center becomes more populated and energy demands increase, Crowhurst will add more energy-friendly technologies, including upping the number of installed UPSs and flywheels. “The end stage is three UPSs with eighteen flywheels total,” envisions Crowhurst. “Reliability, sustainability, and having a low carbon footprint are part of the ethos of our company. This vision with actual energy savings allows us to save money which translates to saving our customers money — it’s a great win-win.”
Many data centers make gains by virtualizing and consolidating servers only to see them lost as more gear is added in. EasyStreet has been able to stay ahead of the curve by working energy efficiency measures into the ethos of the company. The demand for more energy won't go away. Nor will budget concerns, nor the cost of power, cooling, and space. EasyStreet is planning ahead and committing to meet those challenges in the greenest ways possible.