Tips From UPS: Why and How to Start Greening Your Data Center


UPS delivery truckWe’ve all heard the good news: Improving efficiencies at your data center is a sure-fire way to cut energy costs and reduce GHG emissions.

But, let’s face it. The prospect of greening a data center can seem overwhelming. After all, data centers are complicated, unwieldy and high-tech. Even the most intrepid sustainability manager may take a look around, and be left scratching his head, wondering, “Where do we start?”

“That’s a very good question,” says Joe Parrino, Facilities Engineer of UPS’s Windward Data Center near Atlanta. “You start by getting educated and fully understanding the problem.”

That’s how they did it at Windward, one of UPS’s two largest data centers. Originally constructed in 1995, Windward monitors all of the information about the 15 million packages UPS delivers daily worldwide.  Recently, Parrino led the facility through a dramatic energy makeover, a series of varied changes that cut energy consumption by 15% and reduced UPS’s CO2 emissions by 5.5 million pounds annually.

Once you have reviewed your systems and better understand how much energy each infrastructure component consumes, the next step is to “measure your backyard,” Parrino says.  With the help of electricians, you can physically measure the breakers and start to identify opportunities for improvement.

Typically, it’s the mechanical cooling and airflow optimization systems where you can save the most. At Windward, Parrino found that he could shut down 28 of the facility’s 65 air handlers –without affecting data center performance. That relatively simple adjustment is saving UPS about 1.5 million kWh of energy per year.

“When it comes to data centers, you tend to overbuild,” Parrino explains. “You basically add two of everything because you have to plan for failure. That means you tend to overbuild for cooling, too. What we found out is that the data center floor doesn’t have to feel like a refrigerator, and there was no impact on the information technology.”

Parrino and his team also changed the airflow around the Power Distribution Cabinets and installed a Plate Heat Exchanger. (See more details here.)  Then, they upgraded lighting to more energy-efficient LEDs.

Altogether, these initiatives reduced energy consumption by about 4 million kWh annually.

Greening the Windward Data Center is just one way that UPS is working to improve sustainability and reduce operational energy costs, and Parrino encourages other companies to take a careful look at energy use at their data centers, too.

“At UPS, the company culture is always about efficiency, so energy efficiency ties right into that,” he says. “But, overall, I think that people in every company care. I think that once they see what a difference you can make at a data center, they’ll embrace the idea. It all starts with understanding the problem.”

As a corporate content specialist and a ghostwriter for C-level executives, Kathryn's work appears at Forbes, Industry Week and other leading trade publications and websites. She focuses on topics related to science, business sustainability, supply chain risk management and marketing. Find out more about Kathryn at . You can follow Kathryn on Twitter: @CorpWriter4Hire.

4 responses

  1. Data centers are notorious energy hogs to begin with. Aside from multiple computers running 24/7 consuming electricity, there’s also the cooling systems that must keep the data center within a specific temperature range.

    On a side note that relates to data centers, many claim that online bill paying is a more environmentally friendly method of paying bills. Yet given the amount of electricity consumed by data centers, I do wonder about the validity of that claim. Anyone know of any studies that looks into the online vs. snail mail methond of bill pay?

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