CenturyLink Commits to Data Center Efficiency Targets under Federal Challenge
Inside a CenturyLink data center. (Photo: CenturyLink)

CenturyLink Commits to Data Center Efficiency Targets under Federal Challenge

Will upgrade cooling systems to improve PUE by 25 percent across 30-plus US data centers

CenturyLink has committed to improving energy efficiency of its entire US data center portfolio by 25 percent by joining a voluntary US Department of Energy program that promotes investment in more efficient energy use in buildings.

The Monroe, Louisiana-based telco has been upgrading its sprawling data center portfolio to improve efficiency since last year, despite the possibility that it may sell some or all of those sites. CenturyLink management has been evaluating numerous alternatives to owning its data centers.

Bill Gast, CenturyLink’s director of global data center energy efficiency, said uncertainty about ownership of the portfolio in the future hasn’t disrupted the current push to improve its efficiency that started last year.

“We’re still finishing up projects we started in 2015,” he said. “We’re continuing to invest, and we have funding to do that.”

CenturyLink has more than 30 data centers in the US consuming about 200MW total. Joining a DoE program called the Better Buildings Challenge, the company has committed to improving energy efficiency in those facilities by 25 percent by 2023.

The benchmark year for the improvements is 2013, meaning efficiency of the portfolio in 2023 will be compared to its efficiency in 2013, prior to the time the company started its portfolio-wide improvement project. In fact, it’s already reached 60 to 70 percent of the goal in Gast’s estimate.

The company’s data center portfolio required about 150MW of power in 2013. It has since expanded capacity, but its commitment under the challenge is to improve energy efficiency of the power and cooling infrastructure in its facilities, not to reduce their total energy consumption.

The company and the third-party consultants that will verify its progress for the DoE will use Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) to measure efficiency.

The bulk of CenturyLink’s efficiency gains so far have come from upgrading data center cooling systems, he said. The company has started deploying cooling technologies that are relatively new to the data center industry, such as the heat wheel and CenturyLink’s proprietary cooling system design called Chiller in a Box.

Gast expects to meet the efficiency goal for the entire US portfolio by continuing to implement cooling upgrades.

The data centers CenturyLink is improving include facilities the company owns as well as the ones it leases from the likes of Digital Realty Trust, the San Francisco-based data center provider that lists the telco is its second-biggest customer, following IBM.

There are some data centers in the US CenturyLink is in but doesn’t operate, and they are not part of the initiative. But they represent less than 10 percent of the company’s domestic portfolio, Gast said.

Digital and CenturyLink are two of five data center providers that have joined the DoE’s challenge, according to the program’s website. The others are IO Data Centers, Sabey Data Centers, and Iron Mountain.

A total of 11 companies and one university have joined the program with a focus specifically on improving efficiency in their data centers, including Facebook, Intel Corp., eBay, and Schneider Electric.

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