How partnerships can help enterprises reach their green goals

Implementing a digital infrastructure sustainability strategy successfully requires collaboration across several individuals and teams from various disciplines and with differing responsibilities. This is not always easy. An enterprise needs to create partnerships across business organizations and with its suppliers. Internal organizations and critical equipment and service providers must collectively assign the strategy the same priority as reliability, resiliency and performance objectives.

Most data center operators employ a dedicated sustainability team or lead. This person or group must think like the IT and facilities operation managers with whom they work. They must understand both groups’ critical operating parameters and business objectives and develop a sustainability strategy that complements operational effectiveness, lowers costs, facilitates revenue, and delivers meaningful environmental performance improvements.

Business function advocates – individuals with a passion for sustainability – play a vital role in executing the sustainability strategy. They serve as a critical resource for justifying and completing sustainability projects. These advocates rally vital stakeholders, manage adherence to project timelines, and make adjustments as business conditions and plans change.

An organization’s choices when locating and designing a new data center, or selecting colocation and cloud service providers, often set the boundaries of a sustainability strategy. The location and technical capabilities of the data center (encompassing attributes such as free cooling and renewable energy availability, cooling system type, and facility and IT infrastructure and control systems) shape the strategy. The CIO, engineering design and procurement teams must agree on material, equipment and service procurement specifications that minimize the total cost of ownership and meet sustainability objectives.

Any enterprise that depends on colocation and public cloud providers for at least a portion of its IT operations needs strong partnerships. IT tenants must work with procurement, legal and sustainability teams to negotiate contract language with the provider. The contract should mandate the provision of data and operational metrics required for sustainability reporting, and for meeting objectives around renewable energy procurement, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, etc.

Colocation providers face different challenges, as they do not control the IT equipment that represents most of the total power demand in a colocation facility. They must collaborate with tenants on IT system efficiency and information availability to comply with emerging data center reporting, facility and IT efficiency regulations.

Facilities, IT and procurement teams should – and sometimes must – cooperate to improve data center energy and water use efficiency. Here are three examples:

  • Procurement, IT equipment designers/manufacturers and IT operations must collaborate on equipment purchasing decisions. The selection process must look beyond lowest first cost to consider important sustainability elements: maximized IT workload delivered per unit of energy consumed, reduced levels of embedded carbon within equipment, and the ability to upgrade the equipment.
  • The industry is (slowly) adopting direct liquid cooling (DLC) as a more energy- and water-efficient cooling method. The engineering, IT and procurement teams and equipment suppliers must combine the DLC facility and IT components into an integrated system and establish procedures for equipment repair and replacement. One of the biggest hurdles to DLC implementation is facilities and IT organizations failing to agree on a unified strategy that delivers operational reliability and continuity.
  • Organizations can reduce cooling energy use by over 20% by raising IT equipment inlet temperatures to the upper end of ASHRAE’s recommended range and installing real-time temperature monitoring and control systems. Accomplishing this requires IT team involvement to address and manage potential reliability and resiliency risks (exposure of hot spots due to increased temperatures, the automated system’s temperature excursion recovery actions and response times, etc).

These examples illustrate the importance of intra-organizational collaboration in delivering energy-efficiency project results that achieve sustainability strategy goals.

Cross-discipline collaboration is also essential when integrating intermittent renewable energy resources into a reliable energy supply. The complexities of using renewable energy often require data center operators to evaluate many diverse clean energy contracting options.

Navigating renewable procurement choices requires procurement, energy management and legal teams to collectively develop expertise and contracting strategies. The procurement team should establish a strong partnership with a knowledgeable “buyer’s agent”, along with two or three preferred energy retailers and/or renewable project developers to define repeatable contract terms that streamline the procurement process while maintaining an appropriate level of competition. Also, the CIO and CFO will need to participate to limit the acceptable financial risks and cost premiums involved.

Sustainability initiatives cannot succeed without engagement, support and commitment from executive teams, operations and support teams, and key suppliers of equipment and services. Each business function must engage in developing sustainability goals and fully commit to accomplishing them. It is also critical to involve key suppliers as partners, ensure that contracts specify sustainability requirements, and solicit supplier input where their products and services influence the strategy.

In short, it takes collaboration among all responsible parties – whether internal or external – to deliver on the objectives of a declared sustainability strategy.

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