VIRTUS Data Centres and sustainability

The data centre industry is notoriously energy hungry; because data centres house and run much of the digital infrastructure, they use huge amounts of power and can generate vast amount of heat. Data centre power consumption alone amounts to around 416 terawatts, or 3% of all of the electricity generated on the planet.

Despite these alarming statistics, data centres are already far more energy efficient in comparison to previous models of computing. Large efficient data centres are indeed the most effective way of providing for modern computing’s massive demands; one of the most efficient ways to deliver a unit of computing (energy per compute unit) is to put it in a large, modern, advanced data centre on a cloud platform.

Developments in power and cooling have also enabled greater data centre efficiency, and today’s data centre providers are at the forefront of deploying some of the most sustainable buildings across the globe. As customers’ demands grow and increase their data centre space requirements, the industry is both duty-bound and regulated (the EU Commission set a “green deadline”, noting that the industry “should become climate neutral by 2030”) to lead innovations in how to make facilities as energy efficient as possible.

Who is VIRTUS Data Centres:

Since it started in 2011, VIRTUS Data Centres has grown from one data centre of 3MW to London’s number one data centre provider. The world of digital transformation evolves quickly, and today, VIRTUS operates 11 of London’s leading facilities, providing over 200MW of IT load space to customers in and around London. Globally, VIRTUS is part of the ST Telemedia Global Data Centres global platform that has more than 140 data centres with over 1.8GW of IT load across 20 major business markets.

VIRTUS and sustainability:

Maximising efficiency has always been a mainstay of VIRTUS’ data centres, not only for the commercial benefits it passes on to customers, but also for minimising its environmental impact - and protecting the environment is one of VIRTUS’ top priorities. The continued growth of the global data centre market is being driven by an explosion of cloud and internet services. However, this exponential growth in data traffic comes at the cost of significantly higher energy demands. Because of this, VIRTUS was the first provider to commit to using 100% carbon-zero energy – powering its sites solely with truly renewable energy from wind, solar and tidal

sources since 2012. By doing this, VIRTUS saves around 45,000,000 tonnes of CO2 every year, enough to fill Wembley stadium five times over. What’s more, VIRTUS is committed to decarbonising by 2025.

Another way VIRTUS addresses its environmental impact is to increase the efficiency of cooling systems, which currently account for approximately 40% of a data centre’s energy consumption. This is where VIRTUS is making great strides; it was the first to deploy technologies like independent fresh air cooling in 2014 and uses low energy indirect evaporative air solutions.

Whilst cooling is a vital part of keeping data centres operational, an Uptime Institute report estimated that in the US alone nearly 12.5 billion kW hours would be wasted by over-cooling in data centres and improper airflow management. This points to a wider trend of energy waste in the sector, including “zombie servers” and a significant amount of retired equipment being sent to landfill rather than recycled. To tackle this, VIRTUS is not only investing in comprehensive recycling schemes, but also using highly efficient UPS (uninterruptable power supply) systems which have the ability to hibernate parts of the system when they’re not being used.

Furthermore, VIRTUS works directly with its customers during design and construction, on delivering a “cradle to grave” green strategy, where environmental ambitions are built into every step of data centre construction and maintenance. VIRTUS’ facilities are always designed and built with energy efficiency in mind from the start, by establishing proactive sustainability and efficiency measures at inception and leveraging the latest technology; for example, adopting the latest in building technologies and sustainable sourcing of materials.

When it comes to design and build, BREEAM standards look at the environmental credentials of commercial buildings, verifying their performance and comparing them against sustainability benchmarks. VIRTUS adopts this best practice with a number of its facilities rated BREEAM “Excellent” or similar, placing them in the top 10% of UK non-domestic buildings. This accreditation covers everything from waste recycling to how employees travel to work, and includes electric vehicle charging points at every site. VIRTUS’ LONDON4 facility is one of the most efficient commercial buildings in the UK.

Once a building is up and running there are plenty of ongoing concerns to address such as recycling of waste. Last year VIRTUS recycled more than 94% of waste across its business and it has already put targets in place to improve this statistic year on year.

From harvesting rainwater to reduce sanitary water consumption at its data centres, to building out its sites in a phased deployment, VIRTUS is always developing new ways to not only create more efficient and cost-effective buildings, but also protect the local communities in which the facilities are located. VIRTUS’ LONDON2 site incorporates a borehole dug at inception to make use of natural water sources to process water across the site and LONDON5 has been built with living walls.

As a commitment to upholding and improving environmental credentials, VIRTUS is both ISO14001 and ISO50001 accredited at all of its sites in recognition of its commitment to the very best environmental standards. VIRTUS is also a member of key environmental bodies and schemes, such as the Climate Change Agreement for data centres and the leading data centre body, TechUk. This means the company is held accountable for not only maintaining the standards it holds now, but that it is also on track to further improving efficiency in the future.

The Future:

Market demand has been growing year on year and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future as more and more devices connect to the internet and more data than ever is produced. VIRTUS spends a great deal of time and investment on research and development of every aspect of its solutions - from cooling systems to distribution, to security, to monitoring – to improve sustainability and efficiency. Trends like immersion cooling, back-up power solutions, battery technology, gas or water turbines, bio fuel sources and generation solutions are all areas currently being investigated for the future.

VIRTUS continues to innovate but also to broaden its view of the data centre with regards to sustainability; from the carbon impact of the physical construction of the buildings, right through to how it uses natural resources such as rainwater harvesting, aquifers to access natural water resources, and even living walls on the exterior of our datacentres. It works relentlessly to ensure its facilities are operated, and maintained sustainably – working towards a smarter, cleaner way of ensuring Operational Excellence, whilst upholding the highest environmental and sustainability standards.

By Darren Watkins, chief revenue officer at VIRTUS Data Centres.
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