Building Efficient Data Centers

Shawn Mills is a technology entrepreneur, founding member and president of Green House Data. You can find him on Twitter at @tshawnmills.

shawn_mills_tnSHAWN MILLS
Greenhouse Data

Development projects from large companies like Google or Facebook are great learning opportunities, but as impressive as their innovation may be, they aren’t always practical lessons for small- and medium-sized operators. When it comes to energy efficiency, we don’t all have the luxury of building our data centers on the edge of the Arctic Circle or in areas with plenty of geothermal or hydroelectric power, but that doesn’t mean building a super-energy-efficient facility is only wishful thinking—low PUEs are juicy fruit for those who are willing to make the effort.

The recent series here on Data Center Knowledge describing a Compass Data Center build is another angle. Compass is doing some really interesting things with modular design and data center builds, but as a company that designs and builds data centers as their core business, they face different challenges than operators do. When we make the decision to expand, we must sort out many issues that may not be part of our daily routine, while tackling raising capital and other growing pains.

This series will follow the development of a new Green House Data facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming, tracing it from our initial decision to expand through site selection, business grants and incentives, the design process, and finally, wrapping up with ground breaking and construction. I hope other companies of our size come away with new insight into the balancing act of building a highly efficient facility with limited experience and access to resources.

When is a New Facility Necessary?

Sometimes it’s obvious when it’s time for a new facility, like you’re out of room, or an intense storm tossed a tree through your white space. We currently only have about 5 percent of our cabinet space remaining in our Cheyenne location, yet the decision to expand was made about a year ago, when we looked at market trends and analyzed the projected growth of our current customer base.

Demand for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), disaster recovery and colocation services is growing, but it’s worth taking the time to carry projections over 12-24 months in order to time expansion plans appropriately. Nobody wants a shiny new building with thousands of empty square feet.

Where to Build?

The next step was selecting a site for the new facility. We checked out San Jose, CA; Chicago, IL; Dallas, TX; as well as Iowa and Nebraska. In our case, the location that made the most sense was growing our own data center footprint in Wyoming as we already had a close working relationship with the state, who is making a huge effort to grow the data center industry within its borders. Our business model is designed around many of the values available in Wyoming, such as abundant wind energy, cool and dry climate, the intersection of broadband fiber lines and solid business incentives.

The lynchpin was the combination of low power costs and high potential for free cooling, which can combine to a low PUE of about 1.15 for some serious energy savings. With only 5 – 10 percent of each watt going to cooling, the environmental factor drove us to continue our growth in Wyoming alongside other companies like Microsoft and The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

Our demand projections came in handy during the actual site selection. Based on our year-over-year growth, we settled on a data center three times the size of our current facility. That gives us 15,000 sq. ft. of actual white space, plus room for offices, electrical, storage, maintenance rooms, loading docks, security entrances, and all the other supporting elements that keep data centers running smoothly.

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  1. how many watts per sq foot? square footage doesn't mean a whole lot without knowing how dense you can pack it... can you easily do 5kw/rack? 10? more?

  2. Hi Nate - Thanks for your comment. This facility is designed at an average of 5.7, but can facilitate cabinets of up to 10KW. -Wendy