Tackling Roadblocks at QTS: EDF Climate Corps fellow rethinks strategy

Sukrit Sehgal, 2011 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at QTS, MBA Candidate at the College of William and Mary’s Mason School of Business

I’m a few weeks into my EDF Climate Corps fellowship at Quality Technology Services (QTS), and I have come to realize that identifying and developing plans for worthwhile energy efficiency measures in a multi-tenant data center environment is no easy task.  QTS is the second largest power consumer in Atlanta and the third largest data center provider in the US.  Since it’s a first-time participant in the EDF Climate Corps program, I was excited when I found out I would be working here, because I thought “first time” meant no energy efficiency measures yet in place.  But I was mistaken.

QTS has worked hard to reduce its energy dependency. While QTS has facilities across the nation, the one I’m focusing on most closely is the second-largest data center in the world. This summer, I will be validating the power usage effectiveness (PUE) measures currently in place along with the calculation of two new metrics recently introduced by the Green Grid: carbon usage effectiveness (CUE) and water usage effectiveness (WUE). And it’s been quite the learning experience. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that wearing leather shoes to survey a 990,000-square-foot facility results in blisters. But the challenges my feet have faced are minimal compared to the roadblocks I’ve uncovered thus far.

Plan A: On my first day, I looked up at the ceiling and found that T8 tubelights (more energy efficient than their T12 cousins) were already installed. “There goes plan A,” I thought.

Plan B: I then found out 99 percent of the electricity consumption at QTS is a result of data center facilities and not office space.  “Aha! It’s time to change the servers,” I said.   But this idea came to a halt when my manager explained that we’re working on a colocation-based facility, which means servers belong to the customers.  QTS is responsible for managing the smooth operations of the systems that the customers have in the facility.  Unless there are tempting incentives for the customers, why would they want to change their servers?

Plan C: Let’s Increase the temperature and dim the lights.” Another no go. After speaking with facilities officers, I discovered that even though ASHRAE has raised the specs for the floor temperature on the data center floor, the agreement with our customers obligates a set temperature that cannot be modified until the next audit.

After facing so many initial roadblocks, I’m delighted to say I’m in the process of uncovering some positive opportunities and putting my MBA skills to use along with every bit of my engineering background to develop a plan D.  I’m fortunate to have an amazing group of people beside me here at QTS, who are as excited about energy efficiency and just as willing to think outside the box as I am. Most excitingly, some of the measures I’ll be working on here this summer will be industry firsts. I look forward to recording my experiences and unveiling my findings on the EDF Business Blog throughout the summer. Now onto plan D…

EDF Climate Corps matches trained students from leading business schools with companies to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.