Data Center Asset Recycling and Sustainability
How to make asset recycling a win-win for data centers and the environment.
We live in a world where data centers are the “behind the scene” powerhouses that keep those well-known tech companies and large businesses accessible. They are critical for all businesses, both large and small, that rely on them for connectivity, colocation, on-site and cloud storage, disaster recovery, and more. In fact, 2.5 billion people are online around the world and 70% of them use the internet every day. Without data centers, the world 1 would be a very different place.
While data centers are critical for businesses, data centers consume massive amounts of electricity. According to The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in 2013, data centers consumed an estimated 91 billion kilo-Watt (kWh) hours of electricity, and consumption is projected to increase to roughly 140 billion kWh annually by 2020 with the explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT).
Becoming more sustainable and energy efficient is something most companies are striving for, including tech giants like Google. According to Fortune, in 2016, Google announced that its data centers across the globe will operate as energy and green efficient as possible or strive for zero waste. Google is taking a variety of steps to meet the goal, including using its refurbished parts to fix servers. In fact, in 2015, 75% of its spare parts to fix servers came from refurbished parts. This new method has saved the company money, while protecting the environment. This trend has also spread to other major tech companies like Apple, Facebook, and other data centers.
EVERYBODY’S DOING IT — QTS’ APPROACH TO ASSET RECYCLING AND SUSTAINABILITY
Not only is sustainability important to Google, Facebook, and other tech behemoths, but also for data center companies like QTS Realty Trust, a publicly-held international data center company based in Overland Park, KS. QTS was founded with a sustainable mind-set. The company has approached the development of its data centers in a unique way — by looking to redevelop and renovate existing underutilized structures to provide new life to them as data centers. As a result, QTS has focused on asset recycling and sustainability features in its data centers from the outset.
Each year, QTS recycles around 18 million pounds of industrial materials from its portfolio of data centers that total more than 5,000,000 sq ft. QTS located an IT asset recycler early on in Georgia, and that company now collects materials from QTS’ portfolio of data centers, recycling everything from scrap wire to steel to cardboard to computer components and batteries.
REAL WORLD EXAMPLE
The Atlanta-Metro center is one of QTS’ top three recyclers with more than 1 million pounds of materials recycled every year. The items they recycle on a daily basis include cardboard, copper pipes, scrap wire, batteries, and IT equipment.
This facility wasn’t always an energy efficient data center; it used to be an old Sears distribution center and was redeveloped in 2007 by QTS. This makes the data center a brownfield, which is an area that denotes an existing structure and is re-purposed into something new and innovative. Brownfield structures often possess the infrastructure requirements necessary to house a data environment, like strong structural support, open-floor plans, high-ceilings, and expansive campuses. Converting these often neglected sites into viable data centers through the use of state-of-the-art techniques and by recycling and reusing any existing industrial materials is not only beneficial to data center providers and customers, but it often transforms entire communities. QTS has a total of six centers that were once brownfields, including Atlanta-Metro; Richmond, VA; Chicago; Irving, TX; Princeton, NJ; and Miami.
The data center not only recycles man-made materials, but also water. Recycling water is also a trend in the data center industry. According to the Wall Street Journal, a midsize data center uses roughly as much water as about 100 acres of almond trees or three average hospitals. That’s more than 18-hole golf courses. At QTS Atlanta-Metro, when it rains, the center’s rooftop is designed to capture rainwater and store it into large tanks outside of the center. The water is then used to cool the facility and its IT equipment. QTS Atlanta-Metro data center can collect thousands of gallons of water daily, adding up to approximately 5.4 million gallons a year. Across QTS’ portfolio, the company recycles over 28 million gallons of water every year. That would fill up more than 42 Olympic size swimming pools.
As mentioned above, data centers are known to use a lot of energy. In fact, according to Storage Servers, a large data center has a capacity to use as much electricity as a small town in the United States, and the power density of a data center is 100 times more than that of a large commercial office building and is equivalent to nine small-sized shopping malls of Wal-Mart size.
QTS goes against this statistic by being a part of the Energy Star program in all of its facilities, making each center more energy efficient than 75% of similar buildings nationwide. QTS Atlanta-Metro center’s energy efficient features include more than 65,000 blanking panels that save more than 4 million kWh annually and variable-frequency drives that lower fan speeds to reduce power by 12 MW.
QTS Atlanta-Metro data center also is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certified. LEED® certifications are a driving force behind changing the way builders think about how buildings and communities are planned, constructed, maintained, and operated. By creating an independent certification system, LEED is pushing data center companies to continually innovate to build smarter. Providers must use cutting-edge construction strategies, adept floor plan design and quality building materials, as well as advanced technology when building their electrical, cooling, and networking outlay to ensure maximum efficiency.
THE FUTURE OF DATA CENTER RECYCLING
All data center operators should be thinking about where they can reduce costs and decrease their carbon footprints. Several centers are starting to look into recycling the heat they create from servers and equipment to use for energy, which is similar to using water to cool the centers. According to IBM in an Extreme Tech article , reusing heat could cut cooling-related power consumption by 65% and could also reduce centers’ costs.
Whether it’s reusing heat or creating new ways to reuse materials to cut costs and lower carbon footprints, data center operators across the world are striving to become more eco-friendly. QTS’ goal is to do what is right for both its customers and the environment by running as efficiently as possible and continue thinking of innovative ways to maximize sustainability.