Data centers are facing a developing crisis that will impact the future viability and regulatory environment of today’s rapidly-evolving technology market if left unchecked. The industry is now racing to address the situation as environmentally-conscious critics call for regulatory intervention to curb Big Data’s seemingly insatiable consumption of resources that threatens to compromise global sustainability. 

Currently, mission critical data centers are responsible for 2% of overall global energy consumption, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The projection is even more concerning in the US, with data centers accounting for 4% of total energy consumption. IEA projects the industry’s rate of energy consumption will double in the next two years. A new study suggests that for every 30 responses generated by an AI platform, the equivalent of a 16 oz. bottle of water is consumed in the necessary processes that data centers use to functionally cool servers. 

“It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that data center resource consumption is becoming increasingly problematic and a growing concern globally,” said Mike Meyer, president of Standard Calibrations, Inc. (SCI) of Chesapeake, the leading authority in sensor calibrations for data center building management systems (BMS). Meyer, an engineering manager, and his SCI team of data center sensor technicians have inspected 107,813 BMS sensors and calibrated 91,386 BMS sensors in operational data centers and he contends that one often-overlooked solution can help DC owners and operators address sustainability concerns: accurately calibrated sensors.  

Meyer says that with such a large and increasing draw on resources, Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) are arguably the most critical metrics for data centers and can only be understood and achieved through accurate measurement by calibrated sensors. Meyer contends that data center operators who rely on their building management system to measure mission critical PUE and WUE metrics may be surprised to learn that a significant percentage of those sensors are inaccurately calibrated, resulting in faulty readings and inaccurate sensor data. “Faulty sensor data translates into waste. Wasted water and wasted energy resources that can no longer be tolerated in the new data center operating environment,” he said.

Audit findings

According to Meyer, calibration audits and ongoing sensor calibration programs are often overlooked or performed by untrained maintenance personnel. “Some of the numbers we’ve seen are surprising,” Meyer said. Inspections and calibration activities performed by SCI in operational data centers over the years have revealed: 

  • 15.7% of installed BMS sensors had deficiencies (8% wiring)
  • 25.2% of sensors in OEM equipment (AHUs, MUAs, CRAH, etc.) had deficiencies
  • 22.7% of BMS sensors were defective or out-of-tolerance

“This number of out-of-tolerance and improperly calibrated sensors will certainly impact sustainability and potentially lead to equipment failure,” says Meyer. Removing sensors for calibration in live data centers is often impractical and impactful to continuous system operation. The solution, says Meyer, is end-to-end testing with qualified and experienced calibration technicians who can verify the accuracy of each sensor to the BMS, while continuously monitoring the entire system. This allows testing to be performed safely, accurately and cost-effectively. 

Critical sustainability

According to Meyer, every data center operator should be asking these 4 questions right now: 

  1. Do we have a BMS Calibration Strategy and Program in place to ensure our sensor data can be trusted? Effective calibration programs include: system requirements, a qualification process, instrument calibration procedures and a Calibration Management System (CMS)
  2. Are we considering sensor performance testing and analysis for new DC designs? Operators must ensure they have the right sensors properly installed in the right places.  
  3. Do we have technical experts in instrumentation design, testing and installation? Experts in instrumentation and controls can work with engineering/design teams to resolve BMS related issues and develop real solutions.
  4. Are we performing QA/QC audits of our BMS systems and equipment before taking ownership? Control panels, actuators, VFDs sensors, and all the interconnecting wiring are all critical to a properly operating data center BMS system. Timely QA/QC audits of these as well as critical OEM systems (AHUs, MUAs, CRAHs, chillers, etc.) before turnover can ensure you avoid additional costs, delays, and equipment issues out of the gate.


If the answer to any of the above questions is “no,” Meyer said that data center operators can expect sensor drift and failure, along with inaccurate sensor readings, leading to staggering waste in resources or worse, catastrophic DC failure. Solution: Data center operators can access sustainability audits by clicking here to consult an SCI sensor systems expert for a complimentary onsite BMS sensor health check or by contacting the company at 757-549-6534.