Running a data center that is both sustainable and self-sustainable

The key to true energy-efficiency or sustainability in technology solutions comes down to the automation of certain management tasks. Otherwise, sustainability just isn't sustainable.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

We writer/blogger/journalist types get in the habit of tossing around terms that are convenient for us insiders, but that have way more nuance than we typically acknowledge. Take the word "sustainable." I've been using it a lot lately, because I supposedly cover corporate sustainability. But I haven't really ever looked it up until just now as I was writing this blog. (Shame on me.)

Anyway, the literal definition, "capable of being sustained," is rather useless. So, I've gravitated toward this treatise about sustainability from Wikipedi:

"Sustainability is the capacity to endure. In ecology, the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. For humans, it is the potential for long-term maintenance of wellbeing, which in turn depends on the wellbeing of the natural world and the responsible use of natural resources."

So how does this apply to technology. I've been struggling with this until I had a bit of an epiphany this morning while reading an IBM announcement about its new data center facility in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. The data center is optimized for cloud computing infrastructure and it is already being used in a project with North Carolina Central University and North Carolina State University to provide access to course materials over the Internet. The materials are being accessed by a high school in the community.

The 100100,000-square-foot facility already has the sort of credentials that any company could want: IBM has one-upped the design of its data center in Boulder, Colorado, which is certified at the Silver level under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. This time, IBM is applying for a Gold badge, pointing to its technologies and best practices for water reusage, which helps with cooling, and for the sensors that it has put in place to alert operators about temperatures and humidity levels. Air-side cooling is used in the evening, as appropriate. IBM estimates that the data center's energy costs are about half those associated with a data center of similar size and capacity.

The thing that really makes IBM's new facility sustainable is all the technology it has put in place for the facility to self-sustain certain parameters. This facility is just plain smarter than other facilities because of the thousands of sensors that are managing various service levels without human intervention.

In my mind, sustainable technology is technology that can sense when things are going wrong and take action without requiring human intervention -- except when human intervention is warranted or desired. I guess the word is autonomic, but that's a matter for another blog.

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