Internap's new collocation site is optimized for efficiency
Companies looking for a green data center model should take a look at the new facility Internap built in Somerville, Mass., just outside Boston, which is so environmentally
efficient the local power company wrote it a rebate check for $453,000.
A renovated warehouse building that most recently housed a 5,000-member church, the collocation facility is optimized to economically
meet demands for cooling, humidity and power consumption that are common to all data centers.
Internap expects that the data center will save another $400,000 every year by using less power than it would have had it
not built to green specifications, says Mike Higgins, vice president and general manager of Internap's data center services.
That is helpful to its bottom line as well as keeping down rates it charges customers, he says.
To meet increasing demand for power in data centers, the facility is designed to provide 150 Watts per square foot across
the entire raised floor space, and that is upgradable to 300 Watts per square foot. Typical customers actually have access
to 240-280 Watts per square foot because aisles and common areas draw not power - a significant boost to the 60 Watts per
square foot specification widely used a few years ago.
Data center power consumption in the United States doubled between 2000 and 2006, according to the Environmental Protection
Agency, so paying attention to efficient use of power helps address wider concerns about the ability to provide enough electricity
to meet general demand. Gartner says that by 2011, power consumption could double again from 2005 levels if businesses don't take steps to make data centers more
Efficiency and reliability at the Internap data center are key to Carbonite, the first customer to rent space in the facility.
Carbonite is a venture-backed start-up that sells cloud-based backup services to consumers and soon to small businesses.
The design of the Internap site gave Carbonite confidence that its environmental needs – power, cooling, humidity – would
be met, says Rob Rubin, vice president of engineering for Carbonite. Heat and humidity have a direct impact on how long disk
drives last, he says, and the better those factors are controlled, the longer their storage disks last, he says. That has
a direct impact on Carbonite's bottom line.
The 45,000-square-foot Internap building has 16,300 square feet of usable data-center space built so far and has a separate
section ready to build out into a second space of the same size, according to Karl Robohm, principal with Transitional Data
Services, which consulted on the project.
One key to efficiency was deciding well ahead of time what equipment to install and only then turning building design over to architects and engineers, says Robohm. That meant taking the time to find which gear would best serve efficiency
goals. "We didn't pay any more money, we just went out and did some research," he says.
The first step was finding the six rooftop cooling units that keep temperatures in the data center space at 70 degrees Fahrenheit,
plus or minus 2 degrees. He looked at gear from six vendors but found only one that met the rebate specifications of the power
company, NSTAR. NSTAR has a program for paying rebates to its customers that use energy-saving infrastructure in their new
Internap saved money by buying the units itself rather than having the contractor buy them at a markup, he says. That also
ensured that they would be on hand so construction wouldn't grind to a halt waiting for them to be delivered.
The units, which currently have traditional air based cooling coils for capital budget reasons, will be upgraded to more efficient
water coils and chiller plant later on, says John Willard, president of Complete Energy Solutions, another consultant on the
project. At that time, Internap will gain efficiency across a wider range of outside air temperatures and will still have
the air-based units available for backup and redundancy. "It's green today, but it can get even greener in the future," Willard
The simple choice of roof color saves money as well. Making it white reflects more light, which means the roof is cooler and
doesn't generate heat that seeps into the building just to be pumped out and cooled.
Also in the cooling mix are enormous vents called economizers that can let in outside air as part of the effort to keep temperatures
down in the data center space. The economizer can also be used to eject hot air directly out of the building rather than cooling
it through the rooftop units. But proper use of economizers requires careful calculations, Robohm says.
Cool outside air has relatively low humidity and low humidity encourages build up of static electricity that can wipe out
servers. So using the economizers has to be coordinated with generating humidity within the building to keep down static charges,
To handle this calculation, the facility has an energy management system (EMS) that he calls the brains of the building. The
system's sensors measure inside and outside temperature, inside and outside relative humidity and air pressures within the
cooling ducts and the space below the data center floors where the cool air is delivered. "You have to have the whole building
thinking as one," Willard says.
Preventing inside humidity from dropping below 40%, plus or minus 5%, falls to ultra-sonic humidifiers that generate a cool
mist. The alternative way to provide the moisture is use of steam canisters that heat water to create steam that humidifies
The savings of the cool humidification system are dramatic, using 93% less energy than the steam gear, Willard says. In another
Internap data center facility that formerly used somewhere between 90kW and 135kW to power steam humidifiers, switching to
the ultra-sonic technology cut that number to 9kW, he says.
The ultra-sonic gear doesn't use energy to heat the water; it's sprayed out at the temperature it arrives from the tap. The
mist actually absorbs some of the heat generated by electronic gear in the data center, and because it's mist not steam, doesn't
add heat to the equation.
To improve the efficiency of humidity control, the entire inside of the building was sealed by plugging up obvious air spaces
and spraying a vapor barrier on the walls so moisture doesn't escape through them. "You want the air to go where you want
it to go," Robohm says.
Internap wants the cool air pushed from the roof to a three-foot space below the data center floor, where air pressure forces
it up through vents in the flooring. The vents are evenly spaced in rows that allow placement of standard-sized equipment
cabinets between them, creating cold aisles.
The front sides of the servers face these cold aisles and their fans draw the cool air across their heat-generating components.
The heated air is pushed out the back to hot aisles that have return gratings in the ceiling directly over them. The gratings
lead to a six-foot space above the ceiling where the hot air is ejected or sucked into the rooftop units for cooling.
The Internap facility further reduces heat generated in the building through use of harmonic-mitigating transformers to step
down the voltage to usable levels. These harmonic transformers operate 25% more efficiently than conventional K-factor transformers
in data center environments. . By operating at 98% to 99% efficiency, very little electricity is wasted in the voltage conversion
process saving on both electricity and cooling.
Even the lighting in the facility is low powered and turns on with motion sensors. If Internap collocation customers want
more light for their space within the data center, it can be added later. The high performance lighting reaps an additional
10% to 15% savings in power and will earn another rebate from the power company, Willard says.
Overall design of the facility makes it possible to have a wide-open data center floor free of any gear needed to deliver
power, control temperature and add humidity, all of which would generate heat within the space, Robohm says. Freestanding
cooling units also eat up floor space for their footprints plus buffer zones around them.
Internap retrofits some of its other eight data centers with technologies used in its new facility, but it is difficult to
make wholesale changes in operating data centers that are full of customer gear, Higgins says. But the lessons learned at
the Somerville location will be used as the company builds its future sites, he says.