Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) concluded that data centers are one of the most energy-intensive building types, consuming 10 to 50 times the energy per floor space of a typical commercial office building. As the demand for data centers continues to surge across the world, energy consumption has become a growing threat to sustainability and profitability. As the industry at large continues to evolve and expand so should improvements to the facilities themselves, especially in terms of optimizing energy efficiency. 

As data center owners/operators look for solutions to lower their Scope 1 and 2 emissions as well as their operational budgets, they should consider the following when designing, renovating, and/or improving facility infrastructure. 

Remain grounded — Historically, most data centers were equipped with raised floors, which are used for underfloor air distribution that delivers cold supply air to the IT equipment via perforated tiles. The raised floors are also used as an area to run both data cabling and power wiring; however, over time, these designs have proven to be inflexible as data centers continue to expand and grow. When crunching the numbers on equipment installation and movement, as well as maintenance costs, slab floors have been found to be a more cost-effective choice. With slab floors, there are no concerns about placing and/or moving newer, heavier equipment on areas of the floor that are not designed for the weight. In addition, as the power density of data centers increases, so do the cooling needs, and many raised floor designs may not be up to the task. Finally, for regions prone to earthquakes, seismic performance is also important, making slab flooring the preferred choice. Not only does it cost less than a raised floor, but equipment anchoring is easier, as is the reinforcement associated with a raised floor system.

Simplify the flow — Distributing the cold supply of air strategically, efficiently, and evenly across a data center with overhead ducts can be difficult. With the development of new, advanced cooling technology, such as direct evaporative cooling systems, modern data center layouts (with slab floors) are opting for the simple approach of flooding the room with a large cold air supply, managing humidity, and exhausting the hot air into the plenum ceiling return. As a result, the IT equipment receives the cold supply of air needed to meet demand airflow, and the process is simplified, since the data center can be viewed as one large cold aisle that is being flooded with cold supply air.

Find the leak — The goal in any data center is to minimize controlled temperature leakage as much as possible, and that is dependent on selecting the appropriate containment and ceiling structure solutions. Data centers should look for innovative materials and technology that can reduce leakage at the ceiling via two common escape routes: tile perimeters and rod drops. The lower the overall leakage, the less cold air supply needed, and the more energy saved.

As the built environment continues to change, two building types have remained in high demand: data centers and warehouses. But, further innovation in these building types is lagging. Looking ahead, all data centers should be designed with strength, flexibility, construction efficiencies, as well as fast and seamless installation as top of mind. As the world continues to be more climate conscious, energy use and efficiency should be added to the list of priorities when building out data center facilities. The best energy saved is the energy not consumed, and that sentiment holds true as data centers strive to lower their carbon footprint this century.