News Analysis

Is Capgemini’s Merlin the most sustainable datacentre in the world?

Jenny Williams

Capgemini has opened its latest datacentre, which it believes is "the most sustainable datacentre in the world". Jenny Williams investigates what makes the datacentre, known as Merlin, so energy efficient.

The Merlin datacentre, as it is known, in Swindon is being hailed as the most sustainable of them all.

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Capgemini has established a new approach for building energy efficient datacentres. Rather than build the datacentre from scratch, it has used an existing building which is then populated with mini datacentres.

Paul Anderson, programme director for Capgemini, says this could be the first of a new breed of datacentres. "Until now, traditional datacentres just talked about reducing power. We've looked at the building design from a sustainable angle to see what other changes can be made."

By using a "sustainable thought process", Anderson says power usage has been slashed by 50% compared with traditional, similar-size datacentres. To reduce its carbon footprint, Anderson says, "almost every component part has been sourced within 100 miles".

Empty shell

Capgemini used a pre-built shell, in the form of a redundant Honda factory, for its infrastructure. This immediately reduces the carbon footprint because no construction was required and no greenfield site built on.

The empty shell will be filled with pre-fabricated portable cabin-like modules that act as independent, mini-datacentres. The current capacity of 12 modules could be increased to 24 by placing modules on top of one another.

Anderson says there are major benefits to its modular design. It only takes 22 weeks to install a customer in a datacentre module compared with 18 months in traditional datacentres. The modular design also means the client does not pay additional electricity costs to contribute to powering the entire building resulting from under-utilised space. The client can also move the datacentre elsewhere if it wants to.

Power supply

The 3,000m2 facility in Swindon features an energy-saving flywheel uninterrupted power supply (UPS) and building management system (BMS) for climate control.

The company is confident of the demand for the datacentre thanks to cloud computing and increased use of virtualisation technology. Power consumption and waste will become environmental and financial problems for businesses unless energy efficiency is addressed.

"IT is not standing still. We're getting higher density use. CPUs [central processing units] are working harder. We need to find ways of reducing energy," says Anderson.

Analysts agree. Gartner predicts datacentre energy consumption is likely to grow as organisations expand technology infrastructure in recovery from the recession.

"With upwards of 5% growth for server shipments predicted per year over the next two years, organisations need to forcefully control their energy consumption and costs," says Rakesh Kumar, research vice-president at Gartner.

Energy efficiency

Anderson says traditional datacentres will fail to tackle increased energy consumption unlike Merlin's flexible modules. "Traditional datacentres will need to increase cooling but will lack the ability to change because of being in a fixed building," he says.

He expects Capgemini's future datacentres to completely forego the outer building shell, locating the mini-datacentre modules outside. But Anderson insists, "Clients are not yet ready to put data in a different tin."

Capgemini claims Merlin has created a sustainable datacentre fit for organisations' growing energy efficiency needs, offering reduced power costs for clients and a sustainable model for future datacentres. While Anderson is willing to take the leap and call Merlin the most sustainable datacentre in the world, he admits there's still work to do.

"The next step is finding a way to stop CPUs burning up so much energy," he adds.

 


 

Eight sustainable features of the Merlin datacentre

  1. Existing building - Capgemini selected a brown-field site in Swindon and re-used a former car factory to avoid construction causing pollution and environmental damage.
  2. Cooling - 12 variable-speed fans move air around the datacentre hall. A cooling system unit is dedicated to each module, using fresh air. The system has been tested up to 48˚C. Direct expansion refrigerant cooling provides final back-up for temperatures exceeding 34˚C.
  3. Flywheel UPS - the datacentre uses flywheel-based uninterruptible power supply technology as an alternative to batteries, which uses stored kinetic energy in case of blips in grid power supply.
  4. Modular - standalone units based on mobile hospitals and laboratories, mean each module is a datacentre in its own right. Modules are constructed of 80% recyclable materials with low-embedded carbon and can be re-located by clients.
  5. Power efficiency - each module offers a minimum of 1,000Watts/m2. Power usage effectiveness (PUE) measures the total power to a datacentre and divides it by the power consumed by the IT equipment. The average PUE for a datacentre is 2.5 with the industry target being 1.3. Capgemini expects Merlin to achieve a PUE of 1.0.
  6. Building management system - this allows the datacentre climate to be controlled remotely, such as, motorised louvered doors that can adjust air volumes in cold aisles according to the number of powered servers.
  7. Security - the site has been built to a security level to match the Ministry of Defence with a dedicated multi-access level, biometric security system and a network of CCTV cameras.
  8. Resilience - Merlin is also one of three datacentres with full 'Tier 3' certification by the Uptime Institute, which stipulates 99.998% uptime.

Capgemini claims the Merlin datacentre is the most sustainable in the world.

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