Driving down energy consumption


With a wave of climate related protests sweeping Belgium and several other European countries, it is clear that climate change has taken hold of the public’s attention. At LCL we are well aware of our position in this problem. Data centers consume a lot of energy. The ICT-sector is responsible for 2 percent of worldwide CO2-emissions, according to the United Nations. With the advent of further digitalisation and cloud computing, that figure is set to climb even higher in the future.

This gives us a responsibility to act on and save energy wherever we can.

Fortunately, at LCL, we have the right men and women for the job. Over the last few months we have been optimizing our cooling regulation and equipment to decrease our energy consumption without any impact on our customers. This has allowed us to cut energy consumption in the testing part of our data center by no less than 65 percent. Needless to say this makes a huge impact on the effect our data centers have on the environment.
How did we achieve this? Until now we have had a certain way to keep the temperature low in our data centers. As our customers’ equipment creates a lot of heat and is sensitive to high temperatures, this is crucial to our operations. As is common practice in data centers, our server rooms have a ‘cold corridor’.  At LCL, these corridors have been around for year. Where we have been innovating during the past 6 months, is in temperature management. Our engineers have been experimenting with our temperature settings.

In the past we would maintain a constant temperature inside our server rooms themselves, extracting the air as it heats up and injecting cooler air. However, maintaining a constant temperature inside the cold corridor turns out to be a more efficient way of cooling, thus saving a lot of energy. The servers pull up the air from underneath the raised floor, into the cold corridor. The temperature is allowed to rise inside the room, without any effect on our equipment inside the cold corridor. This way there is less cooling to be done, hence less energy that needs to be used.

Another breakthrough was realised by modifying the speed of the fans of the cooling system outside our building. Before these would be either off or running at full speed, with no setting in between. By making the speed of the fans variable, these do not have to work at full capacity all the time, thus saving extra energy.
By using these techniques we are implementing a key part of the ‘European Code of Conduct for Energy Efficiency in Data Centers’. We are the first endorser of this code in Belgium and believe very strongly in its goals. Implementing this new cooling solution has been a challenge, especially in a live environment. Realising this project gives a great deal of satisfaction. We will now work towards expanding our test area and implementing this solution in all of our data centers.

Data centers and the ICT-sector in general inherently use a lot of power. They are also indispensable to our modern world and economy. All that does not mean that we must not strive to cut that power consumption as much as possible. At LCL, we are showing that we are more than ready to take on that responsibility.

By Laurens van Reijen

Data centers trying to beat the heat

After six weeks of sunshine and high temperatures, I reflected on how well the cooling installations in our data centers were performing and the fact that so far we hadn’t encountered any problem this summer. The very next day, however, one of our air conditioning units indicated it suffered badly under the extreme conditions of the persisting heat. Fortunately, we designed our systems to be fully redundant, and our team, which was on the scene immediately, kept their cool and did an excellent job in resolving the incident.

In the past, things were different. When we first opened our data center, over 15 years ago, we faced problems as soon as the weather turned hot. This was often the result of inadequate maintenance, such as when the cooling generators on the roof became clogged up with pollen. Since that incident, we have carried out additional maintenance work every spring to remove the pollen. On very hot days we had to contend with failing systems, and this was particularly problematic when a second site was affected too. While this was very frustrating, it taught us that we needed to address the issue of cooling differently.

Practice makes perfect, so when we made new investments we took into account the fact that roofs become particularly hot in the summer, for example – thus generating more heat inside of the data centers. Our new data centers were therefore designed with extra large cooling generators on their roofs to ensure they can deal with high temperatures.

Given the heatwave currently hitting our country – the second already this summer –, we are very glad that we took those decisions. We will have to take even higher temperatures into consideration if global warming continues. If climate change creates additional problems in the future, the design of data centers will have to be fully adapted to cope with that phenomenon.

In Uptime Institute’s annual global data center survey (2018) of almost 900 data center operators and IT practitioners, 46% of respondents said that their organizations were not addressing potential climate change disruption to their data centers. The advice is to conduct disaster and emergency planning in the context of a broader emergency and business continuity plan. At LCL, we take the Tier design criteria into account in order to increase operational efficiency and improve the reliability of our business critical infrastructure. We also test our backup systems once a month by simulating a power outage. Floods may not occur often in Belgium, but (heat) thunderstorms do take place once in a while… We at LCL, are prepared for the rapidly changing climate conditions.

Laurens van Reijen