Q&A: John Collins on Rehabilitating ‘Vintage’ Data Centers

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At Data Center Knowledge we write a lot about data centers that are new and cool and super-efficient. But one of the industry’s largest opportunities is found in older mission-critical facilities. Many of these legacy data centers have been in service for 10 years or longer,    and face significant challenges as their power capacity is tested by rising server densities in the data center.

But there may be quite a bit of life left in these “vintage” data centers, according to John Collins, the Global Segment Director for Data Centers at Eaton Corporation. The good news, Collins says, is that  updating older power and cooling equipment usually yields significant improvements in reliability and efficiency. Collins will speak on the topic at the Data Center World Fall 2012 conference slated for Sept. 30 – Oct. 3 in Nashville, Tenn. We recently conducted a Q&A with Collins about the chalenges and opportunities found in modernizing older facilities:

Data Center Knowledge: How large is the market for “vintage” data centers – facilities that have mechanical and electrical equipment older than 10 years ?

John Collins: It has been challenging to find an exact number.  Our estimates are that conservatively 1 in 4 data centers is running with facilities equipment that is over 10 years old.   Basically we are talking about all the data centers that were built during the first Internet boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

DCK: Tell us about the process of evaluating these facilities. What are the key steps in determining the scope of the project.

Collins: There are three key steps in evaluating the scope of the project.

  • 1. Meeting with the client to make sure there is a shared understanding of their business needs, now and into the future. With that will come an understanding of how they plan to use their data centers to support their business objectives
  • 2. Do a non-invasive audit of the existing data center. The results will tie into step one and focus on reliability risks, efficiency improvement opportunities, etc. (or a combination of each)
  • 3.  Prepare a report with rough calculations of ROI for the different opportunities for improvement. The report should budget for expected costs and estimate financial benefits of each possible improvement. here may be multiple opportunities within the electrical and mechanical systems – some of those projects will have a better payback than others.

DCK: How much “lifespan” can these modernization projects add to a vintage facility?

Collins: We would expect that if done properly, a vintage facility should expect to get another 10-15 years of life.  Across most manufacturers, newer designs are more reliable with longer life and are more flexible to future needs.  An example of this is modular vs. monolithic UPS systems.

DCK: It seems that many retrofits focus on cooling. Is cooling still the “low hanging fruit” in these type of projects?

Collins: Cooling is still certainly the area where most energy is wasted in data centers and where the biggest opportunity for improvement lies.   However,  replacing an older transformer-based UPS that may only be running with a mid to high 80 percent (efficiency) with one that operates in the mid to high 90 percent range would be a type of an electrical “low-hanging fruit” project.  In fact, many utilities will offer rebate incentives for this type of project.

DCK: Your session at Data Center World is titled “Modernizing Vintage Data Centers.” Tell us a little about what attendees can expect to gain from this session.

Collins: In this session we will be discuss some of the key data center trends that are affecting a vintage data center, and what issues arise as a result.  We will recommend and explain types of mechanical and electrical upgrades and associated benefits, of each as well as some challenges you would be likely to encounter.  We will close by providing a high-level 9-step process for upgrading.

For more information and registration, visit the AFCOM Data Center World 2012 websiteFor Data Center Knowledge readers, the discount code is DFA12DK111.

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