Surrey County Council's data centre efficiency project: Case study

The council will replace its existing primary IT facility this spring with a new energy efficient data centre facility which will help it save around £160,000 every year.

In an effort to meet CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme requirements, Surrey County Council (SCC), based in Kingston upon Thames, has decided to replace its existing primary data centre with a new state-of-the-art facility.

The council has approximately 26,000 employees, and the relocation project is expected to be completed in April 2012.

The project comes at a time when organisations are under pressure to cut costs and reduce their carbon footprint. At the same time, organisations don't want to compromise service levels, especially in critical public-facing areas. It's not an easy equation to balance. But it can be done.

SCC estimates the resulting cost savings to be approximately £160,000 per annum. The improved energy efficiency levels will also save nearly 1,500 tonnes of carbon each year, helping the council become a good performer within the CRC scheme. The new facility will also make a significant contribution toward the UK's 2020 and 2050 emission-reduction targets.

Assessing the data centre facility requirement

So, how will these savings be achieved? And how does an organisation build out a data centre that will maintain performance levels as well as potentially increase them while still saving power and money?

The council started the project by looking for a qualified supplier. This involved a full tender process that included writing specifications of the requirements and inviting suitably qualified and experienced service providers to tender submissions.

Paul Jennings, information management and technology group manager at SCC. considered numerous bids from different data centre design experts. Factors that mattered most were experience, price and knowledge of the latest technology.

SCC also wanted a design house that could guarantee service continuity, especially in critical areas such as fire and rescue and social care, throughout the life of the project. It was imperative for the government agency to avoid any disruptions for its base of 7,500 email users, 1,500 of whom are remote BlackBerry device users. The new data centre facility must also be able to support all of the council's 40+ applications and provide "N+1" resilience to minimise the risk of service disruption in the future.

"The objective is to build a data centre that is not only inherently efficient and scalable, but which is also fit for partnering," said Jennings. "Having a resilient data centre will make the county exceptionally efficient at an operational level."

To meet this particular challenge, the data centre will need to be condensed from three industrial units into a single unit. The existing infrastructure will also be replaced. The installation will include a new 11,000 V electrical substation, a 1.6 mVA generator, a 900 kVA uninterrupted power supply (UPS), full gas fire suppression and 90-minute fire-rated walls.

Modelling and monitoring for the future

In terms of energy efficiency, a sophisticated modelling process showed that the new data centre could achieve a power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.1 to 1.2. This means that for every watt of power the equipment needs to run in the data centre, only 1.2 W should come from the National Grid. A PUE of 1.2 is exceptionally low; figures of 3.0 or more are typical, but SCC aims to reach this level.

The new installation will also use free air cooling -- a low-cost, low-carbon alternative to traditional cooling methods for server rooms and data centres. Free air cooling uses cold air from the outside to cool the data centre environment, and it is expected to reduce SCC's energy usage by up to 70% at full load.

The facility will house power monitors so the council can keep an eye on how much power each of the 150 individual server cabinets consumes. Few data centres take this extra step to monitor power usage, but it will play an important role in Surrey's energy-reduction plan.

The council is virtualising servers in the data centre, which may lead to varying rack-to-rack heating requirements. Monitoring power usage at both the server level and cabinet level will be a crucial aspect. Remote alarms are also installed to help maintain around-the-clock monitoring and support.

Mark Allingham is a Certified Data Centre Design Professional with over 25 years of experience in the IT industry. As owner/director of UK-based data centre design and build specialist Comms Room Services Ltd. for the past 10 years, Allingham has delivered a broad range of projects for both public- and private-sector clients in the UK.

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