To successfully manage a global package delivery and supply chain network, a company needs extremely powerful data centers to monitor all its activities and track all the information about packages and freight in its network. But in today's "green•bCrLf world, managing data centers in environmentally friendly ways is becoming as important as maximizing the uptime, speed and integrity of the data passing through them.

Skyrocketing costs for powering and cooling the rising number of data center servers and other IT equipment continue to challenge companies to seek effective energy-efficiency solutions, especially in these lean economic times. 

In fact, a data center study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released in 2007 concluded that if data centers continue to increase use of energy at current levels, they will consume 100 billion kilowatt-hour (kwh) of energy by 2011 — the equivalent of the electricity used by the entire United States for nearly 12 days. By 2020, data centers in general may surpass the airline industry as a top greenhouse gas polluter. 

Clearly, as the global business community struggles with improving sustainability and reducing operational energy costs, data centers and the energy required to operate them should remain top of mind.

Package delivery and logistics giant UPS is no exception. Like other large, data-reliant businesses, the company is focused on managing growing energy consumption and creating sustainable solutions for the business. One of these challenges was developing innovative energy-efficiency solutions for UPS's Windward Data Center near Atlanta, which monitors all of the information about UPS's approximately 15 million packages delivered daily worldwide. 

An Introspective Look To Find Solutions

Finding an optimum way to continually cool Windward and monitor its energy flow was essential, and the Facilities Engineering team developed an effort that eventually paid measurable dividends. Electrical energy consumption has been reduced by more than 4,000,000 kwh annually (15.3 percent), saving UPS more than $400,000 annually without any compromise to availability.

The program entailed analyzing infrastructure energy usage and experimenting with new equipment solutions to increase efficiency, reduce energy use and make the IT operations more sustainable. 

After studying the facility's energy consumption and losses, one of the easiest energy-reduction opportunities was found in the Power Distribution Cabinets that reside on the floor of the data center. 

These cabinets provide power to the server equipment and are open underneath the floor. The team found that their perforated metal tops allowed massive amounts of airflow up through them, causing a loss of static pressure underneath the floor. This resulted in significant amounts of fan energy needed to overcome these losses, while the cabinets need very little airflow to be cooled.

The simple solution: The perforated metal tops were covered with Plexiglas, resulting in a much greater increase in under-floor static pressure. This, as well as implementing other air-optimization techniques, is saving more than 1,500,000 kwh per year. 

Tackling a Data Center's Greatest Challenge

Keeping the center cool — a challenge for any company operating an industrial or data center-reliant operation — offered another energy-saving opportunity. So the team began to develop a program of solutions that included:

Installation of a Plate Heat Exchanger. The heat exchanger enables the team to shut down 400-kilowatt chillers for a minimum of five months of the year — essentially providing "free•bCrLf cooling to the data center, a process highly unusual in a warm climate zone like Atlanta.Reviewing Weather Data. Despite the fact that several mechanical engineers explained that Plate Heat Exchangers don't work well in southern climate zones, the UPS engineering team reviewed weather data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and calculated a payback period of about 2.5 years based on a four-cent / kwh electrical rate. The Plate Heat Exchanger was designed and installed by in-house staff at a cost of $80,000 in 1999. The winter in 1999-2000 was especially cold, and the Plate Heat Exchanger exceeded expectations by paying for itself the first year.Finding Back-up Cooling. 

Unusually high efficiency is also attributable to the Windward Data Center's 650,000-gallon thermal water storage tank, which was originally installed to provide uninterruptible cooling in the event of a mechanical cooling system failure. It is also used to extend the number of weeks the data center remains on the Plate Heat Exchanger by providing ride-through on warm afternoons. Additionally, the Plate Heat Exchanger needs outside air temperatures of less than 50° F wet bulb (this is important to be technically correct — wet bulb is a combination of both dry bulb — what a thermometer measures — and relative humidity) to maintain cooling of the data center. During afternoons warmer than 50° F, thermal energy from the storage tank is used to supplement the Plate Heat Exchanger to maintain the cooling in the data center. At night when the wet bulb temperature drops back below 50° F, the Plate Heat Exchanger "re-charges•bCrLf the Thermal Storage Tank automatically. No human intervention is needed. 

So while the 2008 average electrical rates have nearly doubled since 1999, Windward reduced its electrical bill by approximately $400,000 with the Plate Heat Exchanger alone providing a savings of more than 1,440,000 kwh per year and reducing carbon emissions by more than 1,000 tons. 

These are real savings, important when the economy is strong and when it's not. Beyond the savings, it is the responsibility of every company to look inward to see where and how they can help save energy and reduce their environmental impact. UPS's due diligence and careful research, despite hesitations from outside engineers, led the company's own data center team to find innovative solutions that exceeded even their own performance expectations. And their tireless efforts were in turn rewarded. The Uptime Institute presented UPS and the Windward Data Center with a 2008 Green Enterprise Information Technology Award for implementing a creative solution to cut costs and reduce energy use. 

While the effects of data centers might not be top of mind for the average consumer, the global business community has its sights set on these facilities and is focused on reducing energy consumption by creating innovative, sustainable solutions that will accommodate a technology-driven economy in a responsible manner. 

Joe Parrino is the Facilities Engineer of UPS's Windward Data Center near Atlanta.