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Cutting ICT's carbon footprint: Capgemini's Merlin data centre

29th September 2010
The Merlin data centre is being touted as the "world’s most efficient data centre". Michelle Ward finds out why.
Portable cabins are not usually associated with sustainable design. But in a cavernous warehouse somewhere in Swindon, Wiltshire, sit four modular buildings that are setting new standards in sustainability and energy efficiency. The portable cabins are in fact data storage units and the centre piece of 'Merlin', global consultancy firm Capgemini's new data centre set to open next month. 

According to Capgemini, Merlin will deliver major reductions in power, water and carbon emissions through a variety of innovative techniques, including a fresh-air cooling system, a flywheel Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) and its innovative modular approach to data storage.

The data centre took just five months to build, but two years to design

"From a data centre perspective, we’ve tried to add everything in terms of sustainability," said Paul Anderson, programme director of Outsourcing Services at Capgemini UK. "We can’t encompass everything because it’s a data centre and data centres need massive amounts of power. But we designed for sustainability and we want to keep getting better."

Merlin comes at a time when information and communication technologies (ITC) are responsible for two per cent of global CO2 emissions, equivalent to that produced by aviation, and when the demand for ITC power is doubling every five years.

Merlin specifications
Capgemini used an existing 3,000 square metre warehouse that was previously owned by Honda, eliminating construction costs and lowering the embedded carbon footprint. Instead of buying the building, the company rented it for 15 years, providing it with the flexibility to move to a new location when necessary.

The company took a modular approach to data storage, ensuring flexibility. The modules used to house data are fully mobile and 95 per cent recyclable. Originally designed as field clinics, they are built off-site and transported to the data centre to exist inside the warehouse.

Four modules currently sit in the facility, but there is the potential for 12. Data is stored inside the modules, with customers able to buy rack space or request their own module to house data. The servers within the modules are fully air conditioned with a fresh-air cooling system, controlled by a Building Management System (BMS), which directs cool air to the precise areas where it is needed.

The Merlin facility uses 50 per cent less power and 30 per cent less water than traditional data centres. For every 232 kilowatts of IT load being used in a module, eight kilowatts of energy is used to cool it, according to Capgemini.

Power Usage Effectiveness rating
Anderson said he believes the Merlin data centre has accomplished what it hoped to, including achieving a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating well below the industry average of 2.6.

PUE is the official measure used to determine how efficiently a data centre uses its power. Ideally, all data centres should have a PUE of one, meaning that the power running the IT would be equal to the power running the entire facility.

Google’s E data centre has achieved a 1.12 rating and HP’s Wynyard facility is close behind with a 1.16 rating. The Yahoo! Commuting Coop centre, which opened earlier this month, holds a 1.08 PUE rating, equal to the rating Merlin achieved in controlled factory testing.

Under operational conditions, however, with the additional calculated electrical and UPS loses, Capgemini estimates Merlin will have a PUE of 1.1.

"I don’t think anyone has ever tested to the extent we did," said Anderson. "Other companies don’t include lighting and electrical loses in their PUEs, but we do."

Anderson said that PUE ratings can be manipulated to make a data centre look efficient without taking into account the environmental damage that may be caused in generating a low rating, like embedded carbon from building and wasted space.

Capgemini's facility is the most sustainable in the world in numerous aspects, not just the PUE, Anderson said.

Sustainability and resilience
In March, the data centre will be the third facility in the UK to receive its Tier 3 status from the Uptime Institute. Certification by the Uptime Institute is regarded as the definitive classification of a data centre’s infrastructure resilience, which means a facility is capable of maintaining consistent power even in the event of a component failure.

For example, the UPS is used for short-term power in case of a failure and is another example of the data centre’s green endeavors. Instead of using batteries, the centre uses a flywheel UPS, which stores kinetic energy to use as power.

"Being environmentally friendly and still have resiliency, Tier 3 is about as high as you can go," said Anderson. "Our data centre is massively efficient and sustainable and we have the ability to pick it up and move it to a new location."

Capgemini will apply for Merlin to be accredited as a green building by Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED), which involves a six point review of energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

Data security
In addition to offering clients a sustainable location to store data, Capgemini said Merlin is also a secure facility with CCTV, alarmed fences around the perimeter, infra-red grids, anti-vehicle barriers outside the entrance and biometric access scans. Merlin has been built to IL3 level security, with the ability to upgrade to IL4, based on client needs.

Anderson said the data centre is innovative in its field and is providing the industry with solutions to improve data centre sustainability. 

"I wish I could say that other companies will start following our data centre model tomorrow," said Anderson. "But I do know that from tomorrow no one has a business case to build a data centre from bottom up."

The facility will officially open its doors on October 12.

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Cutting ICT's carbon footprint: Capgemini's Merlin data centre
Capgemini's Merlin data centre was designed for sustainability
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