In the second of our series of executive interviews with colocation data centre operators we spoke to Brandon Peccoralo, general manager, DataBank
The market for data centres is vibrant and growing. According to Brandon Peccoralo, general manager, DataBank, with the increasing reliance on data to facilitate nearly every aspect of our businesses and lives, he expects more enterprises to expand their data centre footprint. “Consider the simple act of clicking an icon on a mobile device,” he says. “Delivering the data expected by that mobile user in a matter of microseconds requires three critically important infrastructures: the cell towers, optical fibre networks, and data centres.”
The DataBank team believes growth for data centres is a common expectation – with a proviso. “Pure-play space, power, and cooling data centres, likely will not be able to meet market demands,” he explains. “Businesses need more than just a place to house their servers; they need the ability to connect their data to networks so that users everywhere have immediate access. Interconnection, then, is the fulcrum for that growth.
“For example, cloud computing, which requires a large amount of data storage, means we will see an ever-growing – perhaps, everlasting – demand for that storable. Also, significant data breaches make world-wide news once or twice a year, making cybersecurity an ever-growing and ever changing need.”
Meeting market challenges
When talking about challenges it instantly summons a couple of significant hurdles. “Giants like AWS and Microsoft Azure are absorbing more of the enterprise market’s business, placing customer IT environments in their proprietary platforms,” he continues. “But at the same time, not every application can be served by these public cloud platforms. Some require a deeper level of security and managed services, which creates opportunities to partner with these same organisations to deliver against the full complement of customer needs.
“Next, regulatory compliance is a front-and-centre issue for our customers. Fortunately, because compliance is DataBank’s superpower, we believe we have a competitive advantage. From the small IT department to the large enterprise, they are tasked with upholding current security compliance and regulations, which has significant ramifications if they failed. Outsourcing such duties and responsibilities to DataBank can alleviate as much as 80 per cent of a company’s security and compliance workloads with the industry’s most aggressive SLAs, taking rigorous, time-consuming audits off the customer’s plate.”
Striving for sustainable operations
When it comes to the critical elements in a data centre, and what they focus their sustainability efforts on, Peccoralo highlights four primary drivers in renewable energy, PUE inside the data centre halls, precision cooling for each customer environment, and building operations.
Sustainability has always been important to DataBank and is exhibited at one of its flagship data centres, Atlanta ATL1, located on one of the United States’ most innovative campuses. DataBank ATL1 microgrid comprises a fuel cell system, gas generator, and a Tesla battery system for back-up power. Also, many of the data centres in the portfolio use flywheels rather than batteries.
“DataBank strives to lower our carbon footprint in every data centre via industry best practices in cooling, power usage effectiveness, building management, and available green initiatives,” Peccoralo explains. “Our green initiatives were ahead of their time, not waiting for the customer/consumer market to begin demanding it.
“The most popular and significant piece of sustainability is renewable energy. It relates to how one is deploying green energy generation systems, consuming existing green energy/power, or partaking in green energy credit programmes (renewable energy purchasing), all in the name of reducing one’s carbon emissions/footprint.
“It is also worth noting there are many ways to improve sustainability with modern cooling techniques. One simple example is using outside air to cool the data centre in markets where the climate permits it. Also, water-based HVAC is still the dominant technology used to cool. Many data centre providers are now building their facilities close to water sources to pull from naturally cooled resources such as aquifers.
“Lastly, waste energy is a problem in data centres as compute hardware emits heat. This is effectively wasted power, and in some instances, can be recaptured and repurposed. In ATL1, we recapture that heat and transfer it to the boilers of the high-rise next door, creating a unique win-win-win for customers, DataBank and the real estate owner.
“As businesses, our customers are obviously concerned with rising energy costs. As their partner, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of their money. Beyond the cost factor, we see a growing focus on sustainability. Once considered a soft benefit, it is increasingly becoming a business differentiator. In other words, our customers believe their customers make purchase decisions based on environmental impact. We agree and are always working to improve our sustainability practices.”
With the recent purchase of Zayo’s zColo data centre portfolio, DataBank now has data centres in nearly 30 markets across the US and central Europe. “This means we are part of nearly 30 communities, many with energy efficiency programmes,” Peccoralo says. “We actively seek out ways to participate in that existing and growing energy efficiency infrastructure. For example, Dakota Electric in Minneapolis offers wind power through their Wellspring programme.
“Currently, one of our data centres in that market is 100 per cent powered by that renewable energy source, enough to meet our power requirements through 2025. We expect to bring our other data centres in that marketing into the programme. Another is a voluntary programme offered by Indianapolis Power and Light. Our data centre in that market was the first to be 100 per cent powered by renewable sources throughout the Midwest. The carbon emission offset is equivalent to 3,321 passenger cars driving for an entire year. It is significant, and we are very proud of that.”
One of the challenges to sustainability and reducing its operations’ carbon footprint is the temperature differences in its markets. “In cold weather climates, we can use naturally cool external air and reduce our reliance on air conditioning systems,” Peccoralo concludes. “In warm weather areas we use power economiser systems with sensors that measure outside air temperature and humidity. If appropriate, air dampers open to allow outside air to cool the system.
“The overall building architecture, including green building materials, finishes, windows, and even shapes, are all now very carefully designed for improved sustainability. Obvious technologies like solar panelling are becoming more and more common. As data centres consume and waste more energy than almost any other building in the world, the building management and cooling management inside the data centre is most impactful.”