Branching out: sowing the seeds for a carbon-neutral data centre

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    Blue Chip believes that data centre operators have a responsibility to mitigate their environmental impact. Delivering an exceptionally low carbon footprint and an enviable PUE of 1.1, the company also offers customers an impressive 99.995% availability. Louise Frampton reports 

    Data centres currently account for 2% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and consume about 3% of our global electricity supply. However, operators are increasingly aware of their environmental responsibilities and are taking action to address their green credentials.

    Data centre service provider Blue Chip is tackling the carbon footprint of its data centres, using the latest technologies to minimise their impact on the environment. A privately owned, global leader in IBM support, cloud and data centre services, the company operates the largest independent IBM Power Cloud infrastructure in the world. It is responsible for managing critical IT infrastructure for more than 700 businesses in the UK and abroad, with clients ranging from the banking sector and well-known retail brands, to pharmaceutical giants, where reliability and security are crucial. The company owns and operates two data centres in the UK, one Tier 4 by design and one Tier 3, with a PUE of 1.1 – making them among the greenest facilities in Europe. The company has set its sights on being ‘carbon neutral’ and is already making huge strides to achieve its goal. Mission Critical Power recently visited the company’s Tier 4 data centre, to gain an insight into the data centre service provider’s approach to delivering on its targets for energy efficiency, resilience and security, as well the company’s future plans for growth. The freehold site in Bedford, which first opened in October 2010, is now at 80-90% capacity, prompting Blue Chip to embark on its next phase of expansion.

    “The data centre rooms comprise six halls, built in a modular fashion to facilitate growth. The sixth hall is nearly at full usage… There are already 350 racks across the six halls but we are now looking at further expansion on site, offering a potential 250 additional racks,” comments Blue Chip finance director Andy Rounding.

    He explains that Blue Chip was previously a 2MW site but has now doubled its power to 4MW. At the heart of the data centre’s design has been the ambition to provide the most energy efficient infrastructure available and reduce indirect electricity use by over 90%. With this in mind, the company invested in innovative evaporative ‘free air’ cooling, cold aisle containment and warm air recycling. The resulting reduction in power usage both benefits the environment and allows Blue Chip to offer stable contracts to its customers that are not as exposed to the increasing cost of power.

    “Back in 2010, we were already leading the way with PUE of 1.25 but we decided to take this even further,” comments Rounding. “We have conventional computer room air conditioning units as back-up when needed but 95% of the time the data centre is cooled by free air cooling which is much more efficient. It keeps the cost down and has proven to be extremely reliable.”

    The EcoCooling evaporative cooling system installed at Blue Chip is helping the organisation to deliver on its green ambitions and has been designed to give 100% compliant conditions at less than 10% of the energy usage of the best available refrigeration system. The cooling approach features a patented process, based around a return air circulation chamber.

    “We use some of the hot air from the top of the data centre and mix it with the cold air to maintain optimum conditions in the data halls,” explains Blue Chip’s data centre facilities manager, Paul Murray.

    “It is a concept that people find difficult to understand,” continues Rounding, explaining the approach further. “We use a cold aisle system, which operates at 21oC. The cooling is located on the North side of the building and the ambient temperature is usually less than 21oC, so most of the time we are heating the data centre.”

    In addition to its energy efficiency, the data centre has achieved ISO 14001 (measuring environmental impact). The data centre sector is one of the industry sectors with the greatest carbon footprints, so the company wanted to address this – not only by reducing its energy consumption, but by offsetting its carbon footprint, with a tree planting programme. Partnering with the Marston Vale Trust, a local charity responsible for the reforestation of 61 square miles in Bedfordshire, the company has pledged to plant 2,000 trees for every rack it manages (750,000 in total). The programme will also help rejuvenate the local area, which has been damaged by decades of brick making. So far, an estimated 100,000 trees have been planted as part of this commitment. Power is also being procured via a tariff that uses 100% renewable sources.

    The Tier 4 operation meets the highest levels of resilience and is built to ensure exceptional levels of fault tolerance, while being concurrently maintainable. Power to the data centre is delivered by 2 (N+1) redundancy per external feed, and four Caterpillar generators are employed to ensure reliable uptime. The facility is designed so that multiple failures can occur without having a catastrophic impact. As a result, the company says that it can guarantee its clients 99.995% availability.

    “When we designed the facility, we looked at the reasons why other data centres went down… We installed a quarter of a million pounds’ worth of subterranean cabling going between the two sites and two power sides, so if one side goes down, you can switch back and forth, so the UPS and generators can operate from either side and support the whole data centre,” explains Rounding. 

    “We think this design places us in a unique position.”

    Delivering high levels of resilience are Blue Chip’s Dual Network Operation Centres (NOCs). Situated at each of Blue Chip’s facilities and managed 24/7 by the company’s technical staff, the NOCs manage and monitor the daily operations of the company’s data centre environments. While each NOC is capable of managing an entire facility, Blue Chip has also connected the two NOCs, creating a live/live connection and delivering real time management of both facilities from either NOC. This additional layer of resilience means that operations continue via an instant switch over, even in the event of the most extreme disasters.

    “We are an IT services company with its own data centre. Other competitors rent space from a data centre providers, placing them at the mercy of access controls – we have complete control, with a team of 30 engineers and our own systems and software monitoring the racks, which we can develop and improve to ensure it is fit for our purpose. We own and control the DCIM, so we are not reliant on other people to make it work,” Rounding comments. The facility is also designed to ensure the highest levels of security, including over 100 CCTV cameras, with storage of over 90 days of HD footage.

    Rounding reveals that the company’s plans for expansion include the addition of a new 10,000 sq ft building, which will feature a further three, energy-efficient EcoCooling units. The data centre is based on a scalable, modular design and, as the building load grows, provision has been made to add further generators and UPS. The switchgear has been designed to ensure it is future-proofed and can accommodate expansion, and a degree of over-engineering was originally employed, in relation to power, to enable the company to get to full capacity.

    “It has proven to be even more reliable and efficient than we planned, so we have plenty of spare capacity… We are running at around 50% capacity on UPSs and they operate at around 90% efficiency,” Rounding comments. “Customers pay for IT power. From a commercial perspective, you don’t want to waste power by having the lights on, inefficient cooling, and inefficient UPS – you want as much of the power to be used for IT load as possible.”

    Blue Chip is seeing continued growth, supported by significant investment in its data centre facilities and the latest cutting-edge technologies. The company is confident that its growth will continue on this trajectory:

    “As a company, we are constantly evolving and changing the way we do things – the fact that we have been in existence for over 30 years demonstrates that we have the ability to adapt and evolve. During the next 30 years we will continue to adapt and evolve – we are very comfortable about where we are now and the future is looking very exciting,” Rounding concludes.

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