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Data center goes green for energy savings

Fannie Mae's Urbana Technology Center in Maryland is the first data center to earn the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Fannie Mae expects to reduce overall energy consumption by 20% by implementing sustainable design.

IT doesn't do "green." Hardware refresh cycles are constantly shrinking, sending tons of server flotsam into the waste stream. Equipment is packed so densely that companies are requiring hundreds of watts per square foot in their facilities.

In fact, the requirements of IT departments have been so far opposite the sustainable design movement that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a nonprofit organization that promotes and certifies environmentally friendly buildings, has so far opted not to address data center facilities at all.

But that hasn't stopped people from trying, and Washington, D.C.-based mortgage company Fannie Mae has recently certified the first green data center under the USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

The Fannie Mae Urbana Technology Center (UTC), located in Urbana, Md., is a mixed use building, housing traditional office space, as well as a data center. The architecture firm Gensler designed the building and coordinated LEED certification for the project.

Joseph Lauro, Gensler's senior project architect of the UTC, had worked on several sustainable design projects in the past, but said this project was a new experience for everyone involved.

"We had to be creative in boosting the sustainability factor in every aspect of this project, from selecting only the most energy efficient systems to recycling construction waste at the project's end," Lauro said. "We were able to reduce overall energy consumption by 20%."

According to Lauro, the biggest challenge with designing a green data center is that the buildings are energy hogs, with built-in redundancies and staggering amounts of equipment. Lauro said EYP Mission Critical Facilities, a New York City-based IT infrastructure consulting firm tried to be as energy efficient as possible and used Energy Star-rated equipment as a guideline on the project.

All of the mechanical, electrical and computer systems were selected for maximum energy efficiency, as well as lighting systems. The data center is expected to operate at a maximum of 125 watts per square foot.

Other green strategies included putting catalytic converters on the backup power diesel generators, as well as minimizing the footprint of the data center.

And while certifying a green facility can be an expensive process, Fannie Mae expects to save on operations and maintenance costs.

"The Urbana Technology Center's LEED certification will translate into significant lifecycle savings, while providing our employees with a healthier, more comfortable work environment. It also allows us to be a good neighbor within the local community," Brian Cobb, Fannie Mae's senior vice president for enterprise systems management, said in a statement.

The LEED standards cover more than just electrical efficiency, though. The UTC features recycled materials, low emission paints and carpeting, as well as sustainable landscaping features.

While the USGBC doesn't have plans to design a specific LEED program for the data center, this project has opened the door for other facilities.

"By forging the way for green data centers, Fannie Mae and Gensler have pioneered a new building type for sustainability," said Max Zahniser, LEED new construction certification manager of the USGBC. "It's a considerable achievement and an important contribution to help advance green building into the mainstream."

The LEED program has been around since 1999, and has several different iterations, including separate standards for new construction and existing buildings. Several high profile facilities have been certified under the standard in recent years, including the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark. and IBM's Tivoli headquarters in Austin, Texas.

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