Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Keeping our data centers green and our employees safe

The Internet is a virtual place for most people, but data centers -- the large industrial warehouses filled with servers that power the web -- are anything but. We want our data centers to be both environmentally sustainable and safe places to work, so we make sure that that they meet the highest standards of environmental management and workforce safety. Our three owned-and-operated data centers in Europe - located in Belgium, Finland and Ireland - have now joined our U.S. facilities in receiving ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 certification.

In order to receive these certifications, you need to say what you’re going to do, then do what you say — and then keep improving. The ISO and OHSAS standards dictate what key elements are required, but it’s up to us to figure out how to follow through. So we’ve developed a comprehensive system of procedures and improvements that our data center teams follow every day. Each of our data centers is different, so many of the improvements we’ve implemented are specific to local needs.

In Belgium, we use an evaporative cooling system that’s well-suited to the temperate climate. After cooling the servers, water runs through large cooling towers, where much of it is released as water vapor. This process is very energy efficient, but keeping the cooling towers clean and clear of outdoor dust is a time-consuming process. So the team tried a simple fix: they attached screens to the outsides of the towers, which allow air to flow freely but cut down significantly on the amount of build-up. This worked so well that our other data centers have begun to install screens as well.

Screens keep outdoor dust from entering these cooling towers.

In Ireland, we’ve found a way to use excess heat coming out of the server rooms to heat our office space. Hot air that would normally be sent outside through our cooling infrastructure is instead drawn over an air-to-air heat exchanger, where it is used to heat up incoming fresh air for the office area. This eliminates our need for gas heaters in the facility, and, like in Belgium, it’s working so well that we’re considering implementing it at other facilities.

In Finland, where we cool the data center with seawater, we want to bring the temperature down before sending the water back into the Gulf. So we built a “tempering hut,” where we manually mix the outgoing warm water with fresh cold water. We’re constantly tweaking the temperature and amount of the cold water to reach the optimal temperature, and we track that data as part of our ongoing efforts to monitor and improve our operations.

The tempering hut, the small building on the far left, is where we cool water down before returning it to the Gulf of Finland.

We want to lead the industry in environmental management and workplace safety, and we’re proud to be the first major Internet services company to achieve these certifications across their entire U.S. and European fleet.

Posted by Joe Kava, VP, Data Centers

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