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Green data center advice: Is LEED feasible?

Matt Stansberry

Green data center practices are on the docket for many data center managers in 2007. The experts at consulting and engineering firm Syska Hennessy Group recognized this trend and have formed a Green Critical Facilities Committee, sending many of its members to be trained under the U.S. Green Buildings Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. The USGBC's LEED program is a voluntary rating system designed to encourage companies to build environmentally sustainable, high-performance buildings.

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SearchDataCenter.com interviewed two members of Syska's green team, vice president of critical facilities, Christopher Johnston and senior vice president of sustainable design, Dave Callan, and talked about LEED-certified data centers and green computing.

Is there interest in the LEED data center?

Chris Johnston: It is a hot topic, literally. But my impression is that [data center managers] are not so much interested in LEED as they are in operating efficiency and driving down the cost of operation. There are a large number of data centers being designed with 100 megawatt electric demand. The big users have been beating on the computer equipment manufacturers to make equipment more efficient.

What is more important at this point, better server design or overall design?

Dave Callan: It's both. When you talk about energy efficiency, you have a load [the servers]. Whenever you're trying to reduce energy, the strategy is to focus on the load itself. You can have the best infrastructure design to respond to that load, but you're not going to be energy efficient until you have better utilization of the servers.

Is the LEED data center possible for companies?

Callan: The answer is yes. There are two currently certified LEED data centers in the U.S. While LEED is an excellent tool to provide a metric, it can't be a driver for design, and that's true for any facility. If you're designing a facility, and you're using LEED as a checklist to see where you can get [LEED] points, you're not going to have a successful project.

Johnston: If it gets down to the choice between LEED and reliability in your data center, the business chooses reliability.

How can data centers achieve certification if that is their goal?

Johnston: Under the previous version of LEED, the only way you could have a LEED certified data center would be if you had a large office component attached to it. The two were yoked together. The first successful project like this was Fannie Mae in Virginia.

Callan: In my mind, LEED is aimed toward commercial and institutional buildings designed for occupancy. Data centers are industrial buildings, 200,000 square feet and you have five people that work there. The data center is basically a lights out environment. Industrial facilities in particular don't fit easily into the LEED concept. But there are so many valuable features from LEED that can be applied in the data center field. You don't have to focus on achieving gold or silver certification.

Where does the USGBC stand on LEED data centers?

Johnston: The USGBC is not going to create new [certifications] for high-tech facilities. They were going to develop best practices documents called application guides [to help high-tech facilities gain LEED certification under existing standards]. Recently the USGBC has been focusing on hospitals, but it generally focuses on occupied buildings.

What other challenges do you run into when trying to build green data centers?

Johnston: We occasionally run into problems with city building codes that occasionally drive us away from sustainability. We recently built out a 200,000-square-foot data center. Five people work in the building at any time. The jurisdiction said we had to build 150 parking spots and we argued, we're only going to have five people working here. But they said no, you will provide parking. We ended up having to scrape off a lot more vegetation and trees to satisfy the authority's jurisdiction. The data center is an odd duck. It doesn't fit well into the codes.

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