By Darren Watkins, Managing Director for VIRTUS Data Centres

With demand for data center space continuing to grow, availability of real estate at a premium and sustainability at the top of most agendas, efficiency and performance is critical to keeping the digital economy going. The only way operators can continue to service the demand is to become more effective, efficient and environmentally responsible by harnessing innovative techniques and fully committing to using carbon-zero renewable energy.

To achieve optimum performance, providers must operate as efficiently as possible, and this can’t be done through discrete initiatives. Operators must look holistically at optimizing their data center footprint and embark on a journey from design and construction, through deployment, operation and optimization, to ensure their customers’ needs are met at every step of the way.

What is ‘optimum performance’?

For most data center providers, 100 per cent availability is a key performance indicator, since the IT loads they support are mission-critical and the impact and cost of downtime is high. Scalability is equally vital for performance, as customers look to operators to provide more or less space as and when needed. This is particularly key for colocation providers that are required to flex their provision alongside their multiple customers’ changing requirements. One customer may have High-Performance Compute (HPC) environments and need large amounts of power and the agility to rapidly change consumption profile in line with demand. At the same time, another customer may want to keep power usage within their environmental requirements.

There are other performance metrics to consider; how energy efficient the data center is, what its Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating is, how cost effective it is in terms of CapEx, OpEx, or total cost of ownership (TCO).

How sustainable and environmentally compliant the design is increasingly being measured, such as the use of critical resources like Water Usage Efficiency (WUE) and reporting the reduction of carbon emissions. These metrics are becoming more of a necessity as many organizations are regularly asking providers for evidence of robust sustainability and carbon reduction measures for their own CSR commitments. Plus, the EU Commission recently set a “green deadline”, noting that the industry “should become climate neutral by 2030.”

Success begins with design and construction

The first consideration for data center operators is likely to be location. A data center can be built almost anywhere with enough suitable power and the right connectivity, but location has an impact on the quality of service it can provide. For efficiency, VIRTUS’ data centers are all located within London’s metro – close enough to both London and other data center ecosystems to allow for mission critical data replication services, but far enough from both to satisfy physical disaster recovery requirements.

When it comes to design and construction, there are plenty of things to think about such as materials, time to market and cost. But it’s not just about quick and efficient builds. Innovative data center designs are a way to stay ahead of the market, pushing standards forward.

Innovation must be aligned with ongoing sustainability, and it’s here where the BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) standards are important. The standards look at the green credentials of commercial buildings, verifying their performance and comparing them against sustainability benchmarks across the entire project lifecycle.

Deployment, operation and optimization

Power and cooling account for much of the operating costs of a data center and are a crucial consideration for efficiency and performance. Trends like immersion cooling, back-up power and generation solutions are all interesting areas for innovation in the future.

Liquid cooling has fast made a comeback as a way of maintaining optimal operating temperatures, notably in the HPC arena together with innovative techniques like using indirect evaporative air. VIRTUS data centers use a variety of these techniques in its facilities, alongside innovations in liquid cooling. This strives to produce a 1.0x PUE which, according the Uptime Institute’s annual survey, is well below the 2020 average of 1.58x. All operators attempt to get the PUE ratio down to as near to 1.0x as possible, with most new builds falling between 1.2x and 1.4x.

In terms of power requirements, the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) will be determined by several factors including the criticality of the systems under load, the quality of the existing power supply and of course, the cost. When it comes to energy use, many providers are committed to using 100 per cent renewable and carbon-zero energy sources – helping them to meet environmental goals while also providing cost savings and increasing reliability.

Invest in skills

The Uptime Institute’s Global Data Centre Staffing Forecast 2021-2025, claims that data centers will need to find 300,000 more staff by 2025. There are two main issues that need to be addressed; some employers are making the skills crisis worse by demanding over-ambitious qualifications, and furthermore, people don’t know the sector exists, so can’t even consider it as a career.

Many of the skills required to operate data centers are widely available in other industries, so raising the profile of the sector is key. There is definitely an increased focus on, and opportunity to, “reskill” individuals from other sectors hit hard by the pandemic, such as those who have experience in the aviation industry. Finding and attracting people with the right skills, existing or transferable, as well as providing ongoing training is key to keeping organizations operating in this digital age, let alone improving efficiency and performance.

Market demand for data centers space globally has been growing year-on-year and is predicted that it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. As long as the increasing data needs to be analyzed and converted into to information, there will be a continued demand for data centers to both process and store it. However, demand comes with constant cost and sustainability pressures, so time and investment must be spent on research and development of every aspect of data center solutions – from cooling systems to distribution, to security and monitoring – to improve performance and efficiency.

Forward-looking providers will work with supply partners and customers to innovate, enhance product development and adopt where possible. By doing this, data centers can provide a robust and secure high performing solution that is efficient and can support customers now and in the future without dramatically affecting cost.