They say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence — or, as the case may be, on the other side of the data center aisle. The modern twist on the old adage certainly applies to NetRiver, the leading provider of colocation and interconnection services in the state of Washington.

Indeed, since outfitting its 5,600-sq-ft Lynnwood, WA, facility with a comprehensive range of energy-efficient IT equipment last year, NetRiver has been making data center managers green with envy — racking up hefty utility rebates, generating significant energy savings, and garnering prestigious accolades for its commitment to green efficiency.

Power system overhaul

Delivering a resilient platform that enables carriers, Internet content companies, hosting firms, and enterprises to outsource their network operations, NetRiver supports two facilities that function as primary data centers for the company’s 100-plus customers.

In addition to its recently expanded Lynnwood facility — which delivers 250 to 500 W/sq ft— the firm also operates a 1,200-sq-ft data center in Spokane.

Prior to revamping the Lynnwood location with a highly efficient Eaton® power protection solution — plus new chillers and variable-frequency drives — NetRiver, like many organizations, was feeling the burden of ever-escalating power demands.

“We’re talking about megawatts of power here. We have a large baseline consumption,” explains Adam Vierra, the company’s sales and marketing manager. “When you take that into account over days, months, and years, there’s the potential for hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in savings.”

NetRiver certainly isn’t alone in its quest to slay skyrocketing energy costs. Across the globe, data center managers are feeling the effects of unmitigated expansion of IT gear, coupled with changes in server technology. Over the past decade, gains in efficiency have failed to keep pace with increases in server computing performance, resulting in growing power density as new power-hungry servers consume more and more energy within the data center.

With these mounting challenges, data center managers are increasingly being tasked with finding new ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs. For NetRiver, these goals were achieved after the company chose to overhaul its data center’s critical power systems.

Inefficiencies in uninterruptible power supply systems (UPSs) are a significant contributor to rising energy costs. While the efficiency of a typical UPS generally ranges from 94% to 95%, that rating plunges as the load decreases. And because the majority of IT systems use dual bus architecture to achieve redundancy, most UPSs are supporting loads of less than 50%, and often as little as 20% to 40%.

Lower PUE and more

Yet even small increases in efficiency can translate to thousands of dollars in savings, resulting from the ability to achieve more real power while lowering cooling costs — outcomes that NetRiver has experienced since deploying three 550 kVA Eaton 9395 UPSs equipped with Eaton’s new Energy Saver System (ESS).

ESS enables the UPSs to attain an industry-leading efficiency level of 99%, making it the only technology on the market capable of yielding such results. Using ESS, the UPS intelligently adapts to utility power conditions while supplying clean power to the connected equipment. Even more, because UPSs using ESS maintain 99% efficiency even when lightly loaded, the technology can deliver gains of up to 15% in efficiency over traditional models in the typical operating range.

“For every 1% of efficiency gained, we save about $10,000 per year,” Vierra points out. “That really adds up.”

Indeed, the data center’s projected savings of 1.5 million kWh per year translates to $110,000 slashed from its annual utility bill. But that is just the beginning. To reduce the capital outlay required to install the equipment, NetRiver worked with its local utility company, Snohomish County PUD, to secure valuable incentives. The PUD offers technical advice and cash incentives to customers who install qualifying energy efficient equipment in new and existing facilities. Incentives are based on anticipated annual electricity savings and vary by project type.

In addition to receiving funding for installing a pair of 250-ton high-efficiency chillers and new variable-frequency drives — which are yielding efficiency savings of 23% alone —  the PUD allocated almost $100,000 in funding for the Eaton UPS solution. From Snohomish PUD’s perspective, it was a worthy investment.

“NetRiver strives to be one of the greenest data centers, and selected the most energy-efficient solutions,” says Sinh Tran, senior energy efficiency program manager for the utility. “We believe in supporting customers who seek and employ innovative energy efficiency solutions.”

Equally impressed with the solution was BetterBricks, the commercial building initiative of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), which is supported by local electric utilities. Through the BetterBricks initiative, NEEA advocates for changes to energy-related business practices in Northwest buildings and seeks to help business professionals understand the power of energy efficiency and make a real difference in their buildings and businesses. In March 2010, the organization awarded NetRiver’s data center a BetterBricks Award for leading the way in energy efficiency.

“We were selected in the category of multi-disciplinary team, so they are recognizing us along with our partners who helped develop and implement the solution,” Vierra explains. “We chose the newest technologies because they fit the bill and met all our requirements. The whole package deal for us has been great.”

The trio of 9395 UPSs with ESS has also dramatically transformed the company’s power usage effectiveness (PUE), a metric used to describe the energy efficiency of a data center that was created by members of the Green Grid, an industry group focused on data center energy efficiency. PUE is determined by dividing the amount of power entering a data center by the power used to run the computer infrastructure within it, and is expressed as a ratio with overall efficiency improving as the quotient decreases toward one.

“We’re actually at 1.3 for PUE, which is pretty phenomenal,” Vierra reports. “Most companies are between 1.7 and 2. We’re at the lowest reported PUE that I have seen. If we had adopted any other UPS, our operating costs would have been much higher and our PUE would have been much higher,” he adds. “When you can get a better UPS design and more efficiency across all loads — as well as a small footprint — it makes for an easy decision making process at the end of the day.”

Snohomish PUD’s Tran hopes more companies will follow NetRiver’s lead in an effort to increase efficiency. There are a lot of opportunities for improvement, he emphasizes, considering most data centers operate 24x7.

“Due to their continuous operation, data centers are significant energy users,” Tran says, “so they should select the best equipment that they can. Using ESS whenever possible represents a lot of savings, as it makes the UPS up to 99% efficient, greatly reducing energy use and costs.”

Vierra agrees, noting that NetRiver’s power consumption comprises about 35% of its overall operating costs.

“It’s pretty significant,” he acknowledges. “There’s a lot of overhead for data centers and a lot of opportunity to add money directly to your bottom line by reducing energy costs.”

But for NetRiver, the high efficiency UPS solution is an investment that will pay for itself many times over. “For us — from the rebate standpoint as well as the energy savings on a yearly basis — it will clearly pay back,” Vierra says.

In fact, the energy savings from Eaton’s ESS typically recovers 100% of the cost of the UPS cost over just a three- to five-year time period. At a 250 kW load, for example, the savings represents $4,000 per year per point of efficiency gain. Even more, from a green perspective, backing up that same load with an ESS UPS is equivalent to removing 29 cars from the road.

Vierra offers another analogy. “It’s like going to those places in the mall where you put your change in and get only part of it back,” he says. “With the Eaton UPS, it’s like putting 100 pennies in and you get 99 cents back. Because we use billions of pennies, so to speak, it really adds up.” n