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Rackspace Leads Their City in Green Reclamation Building and Greener Data Center Strategy

FEATURE STORY: It's a good feeling to discover that a key member of your supply chain is going greener.

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For about seven years, we at California Green Solutions have enjoyed steady quality and excellent customer service from our hosted computing service. Our provider has been Rackspace, but I couldn't tell how green they were as I became more deeply involved in green solutions for businesses of all kinds.

This interview with Rackspace's Randy Smith with support by Rachel Ferry was one of those "reassuring" moments that we all like to experience with our suppliers.

I knew that server farms have major energy problems, but the impact of digital is less than paper distribution of information - so I rationalized my support of a dependable supplier. And trusted them.

But now I find that Rackspace has been on a greener operational pathway for some time... and that is very reassuring! Formalized in 2007, Rackspace’s "Greenspace Initiative" is a three-pronged approach to sustainability through the company’s customer offerings, employee education and corporate conservation, in which LEED Gold Certification of their corporate building is a key facet.

"Achieving LEED Gold Certification further exemplifies Rackspace’s commitment to enhancing the San Antonio community and dedication to the Greenspace Initiative," said Randy Smith, director of real estate at Rackspace. "With improved utilization and energy efficiency, 'going green' is a practical, long term decision both, fiscally and environmentally."

Rackspace achieved LEED Gold Certification with reuse of a vacated structure, an approach known as urban infill, as part of a community redevelopment program that has benefited surrounding retail businesses, residential neighborhoods and schools. Rackspace initially renovated over 230,000 square feet within the 1.2 million square foot mall, and will continue expanding across the structure with more green office space.

Sustainability Grows Out of Building Renovation

Not only has Rackspace's attention to sustainable community concepts revitalized the community surrounding its new headquarters, but building renovation has incorporated LEED principles across five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

Specific sustainability practices include:

  • During the demolition phase, Rackspace removed more than 1,600 tons of steel and other metals, which it sent to be recycled. Overall, more than 1,900 tons of concrete, metal, wood and other materials were recycled.
  • The company also sent six trailer loads of recovered building materials, such as doors, windows and fixtures, to Habitat for Humanity.
  • All design materials, such as the carpeting, were chosen for no or low volatile organic compound that could be harmful to environmental health.
  • Natural lighting through skylights, and since the ceilings are high, lighting can be controlled at every workstation, which, coupled with motion sensors and timers, results in a Lighting Power Density reduction of 15 percent below Standard.
  • Showers encourage employees to walk, run or bike to work.
  • Bathrooms feature state-of-the-art hand dryers to reduce paper waste, and low-flow toilets to conserve water.
  • Recycling bins for paper, plastic and aluminum are placed throughout the facility, and the company provides reusable items, such as coffee mugs and cups, in the break areas.
  • External landscaping features drought resistance and the irrigation system uses only recycled water that is collected through a cistern located next to the main entrance.

Green Operations in the Rackspace Server Facilities

Greening Rackspace's office space was born out of the ethos of their employees. The new LEED building didn't even add significant cost ... but does result in significant operating expenses. "It's a win win! We do things that support employee values, have a sustainable building and have lower energy bills. But we also realize that office space represents a drop in bucket compared to costs of our data centers," he explained.

Rackspace is growing their data centers around the globe -- they currently have 10 data centers. "Hosted computing, in general, is greener than doing it yourself. But because of the heavy energy usage, we always work on improving data center performance.

"The Data Center is an area where savings can be substantial depending on scale. Because the savings can be so great, we focus on energy metrics... all our data centers are more efficient than industry standards due to scale... big saves more! Industry standards outside Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, -- the big players -- most are measured in "megawatts of compute power" (old metric: square feet).

Microsoft just built a 50 megawatt, half billion dollar data center. That's amazing!

Google has 20-40 megawatt data centers.

Rackspace data centers are smaller, their largest is in Chicago ... 10 megawatts, and it's part of an 18 megawatt facility.

Trends in Greening Data Centers

Concerted effort is growing in the IT sector to conserve energy -- not only because it is their major cost, but because their employees are often highly educated information and thought leaders, and interested in greener workspaces and sustainable communities for their families.

Trends in the IT industry focus both on buildings (which use over 40% of the US energy supply) and operations of those ever-faster, power-hog servers that run 24/7/365.

  • Construction materials are a starting point.
  • But the BIG factor is how much power they use ...
  • And where the power comes from.

Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) Metrics of Data Centers

Power usage effectiveness is the current metric used to evaluate data center sustainability improvements. PUE measures the ratio between each $1 cost to power the server compared to how much is spent to cool it.

THE Lion's share of everything else is COOLING.

The industry standard for colocation is a PUE of about "2." That means the data center spends $1 to cool for every $1 of critical load (power to the floor). (2:1 average metric)

Those metrics are improving across the industry. "It's more realistic to see costs of about $.60 (to $1 of compute power) to cool a data center," Randy observed. "Some of the largest data centers in the world say that across their (huge!) portfolio of centers, they have a PUE of 1.21. That's 21 cents of cooling to $1 of computing value." Read more about Google's measurements.

Solutions that Define "Best Practice for PUE"

The major methods used to achieve a "Google PUE" include:

How applications run.

By using distributed searches, and less redundancies they improve the efficiency of the servers.


FREE AIR COOLING is a hot topic ... "a cool topic!" Free air cooling is a solution that's coming into the mainstream.

Google claims to have built a data center in 2008 that uses NO chillers! They picked a geography and ecosystem in Belgium that can use outside air. The average temperature in Brussels during summer reaches 66 to 71 degrees, while Google maintains its data centers at temperatures above 80 degrees. You can read about it here: Google chillerless data center"

Free air cooling uses outside air to cool the chillers because treating fresh air for particulates and humidity is more efficient than creating cold air in places like in Texas.

Data Center Efficiency

Energy efficiency in data centers is measured at the PUE level and that's "all about the cooling." Digital processing creates heat, and the heat must be controlled for quality service delivery.

More Efficient Servers

Server efficiency varies -- hence the energy rating standards such as Energy Star. In a hosted server location vs. a "cloud computing" data center application, "the standard of service is what works best for each customer. Gear selection by customers is common in dedicated gear data centers. But in the latest trends toward CLOUD computing service - the equipment selection can be very homogenous -- and focus more on equipment standards for energy efficiency.

"We've found that the major gains are to be made are in cooling!" says Randy.

Which Power Source is Used

"When you look through the entire sustainability lens, you also have to look at HOW power is generated. In some parts of the country you have greater opportunities to use cleaner sources of energy. For example, the energy mix found in West Virginia is heavily dependent on coal. North Carolina has a good blend of renewable and coal sourcing. Washington state has super levels of hydro capabilities. So, going forward, as Rackspace adds additional data centers, location will be increasingly important.

Changing Metrics for Measuring Efficiency and Efficacy

PUE metrics are new in IT. Existing data centers weren't designed with efficiency or power generation mix in mind. They were designed to be super reliable and located near CHEAP power -- not renewable power.

Many enterprise data centers still want to "hug" their data centers to maintain close access. That will not continue when other locations are better suited to energy efficiencies and as carbon becomes more costly with regulations that price carbon usage.

Cloud Computing Trends

Cloud computing demand from the marketplace is pulling us there," says Randy. "Our major strategies continually striving for energy efficiency, and use of greener energy.

The "greener cloud" is designed around offering customers 'utility computing'... access they can turn on and off based on need. And that's more efficient than dedicated computing. The data center -- where the cloud sits is part of super-efficient building. Location. Location. Location -- the first rule of real estate also applies to energy optimization.

Location matters. Who will win the coming data center growth? States with high rates and a high coal mix vs. states with highly renewable energy mix?

Computing on your own or using a small co-locates facility will cause a data center's PUE to be 2 or higher. Enterprise IT facilities are not remotely close to the PUE metrics of cloud or colocated datacenters.

But not all large datacenters have equal PUEs, either. It depends on location, size of the facility, and energy efficiency design of the facility.

Rackspace's data center PUE varies. Their most efficient, newest data centers are in northern Virginia and Chicago. Their most efficient colocated buildings are owned and operated by Dupont Fabros Technologies. DuPont Fabros Technology, Inc. is a specialized REIT -- an owner, developer, operator and manager of wholesale data centers in the United States.

Measuring PUE Metrics

Measuring PUE isn't simple, either. There's "actual PUE" that's not achieve until the building is full. And there's "projected PUE" that's a calculated metric.

The building used by Rackspace in Virginia is full: so the actual PUE is 1.35 or better. They occupy about 6% of the specialized building that is a 36.4 megawatt data center. "100% of the PUE is up to Dupont," Randy noted.

While specifics are confidential, Randy did explain the industry trend toward putting a "cooling charge" in data center space leases. The leasee pays no more than XX cents on each $1 of critical load.

This is a new concept in industry that deals with the differing concern and responsibility by building owner and occupant. It requires that building owners be more concerned about energy efficiencies than they have been in the past.

"Certain Landlords will agree to cap the PUE on your bill." This creates an incentive for landlards to run the building more efficiently. Critical load will be metered separately, and the occupant says, 'I'll only pay you 35 cents to cool it... if it costs more, that's on the landlord's nickel.'"

Lease structure is growing more common as a way to cope with rising energy costs and sustainability strategies.

Rackspace Sustainability Strategy

"Rackspace is a growth company and we need more data centers. Sustainability is in the foreground of our facilities planning. Customer demand will drive this," He says. But he also observed that, "We're not seeing customer requests coming for greener computing ... but, expect them to be coming soon."

Sustainable Community Ethos

Randy Smith takes his sustainability mission seriously both in the facilities he manages, and in his local community. "We have the largest LEED project in Texas, but our headquarters city, San Antonio, is behind the green curve. But we have a 35 year old Mayor who is getting national attention for his "Mission Verde" program for our city, and corporate leaders are brainstorming greener solutions.

"We get together and compare what we wish we could do but can't 'pencil' out...and are looking at ways we can collaborate and do them cost effectively together. Things like food disposal. We could donate wrapped leftovers to the food bank... or share a pick-up truck for waste food for composting."

Gallery of a Green Headquarters Building

Reclamation of old urban buildings not only minimizes C&D debris that ends up in the landfill, but revitalizes local neighborhoods for a more sustainable community.

The Rackspace LEED Gold building project is the largest green project in their community, providing a visible commitment to greener data centers and support of their employees, customers and neighbors.

Green matters, and leadership matters for everyone involved.

CONTACT: Rackspace for managed hosting, cloud hosting and computing excellence!

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| green IT | data center sustainability |


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