Sustainability. What Does it Mean to You?

By Mark Skiff, Director, Data Center Solutions, NetApp


My ears perk up when I hear people talking about sustainability. A few years ago, I was walking through the baggage pick-up upon returning from a business trip and overheard a couple talking about friends who “led a very sustainable life.” Short on time, I continued on—but there was an intense temptation to ask them what exactly did leading a sustainable life mean to them. Nonetheless, I have become convinced that sustainability has taken root in society, and to this day I continue to be curious about how people view it.


For many, sustainability seems to mean doing things in the most environmentally responsible way to meet the needs of today without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their needs. Sounds simple enough, but it gets a bit tricky when you look into the details. A good example is any conversation on data center sustainability and the elements that comprise a sustainable data center. 


NetApp’s data centers and labs are significant energy users. At the same time they are recognized to be among the most energy-efficient data centers in the world. In fact, our Global Dynamic Lab (GDL1) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, is the first ever Energy Star-certified data center. After five years of operation, it remains the highest-performance data center in the Energy Star database. The recently completed GDL2 facility will be a 15 percent to 20 percent improvement over GDL1.

So we seem to be on the leading edge as far as energy use goes, but are we doing enough? We could do more. For example, we could lower the energy use even further by investing in other cutting-edge products and technology, such as solar to offset usage. Another alternative is to locate data centers in cooler climates to reduce cooling requirements. It would also be easy to raise data center set points to increase annual free cooling hours.


But, each of these options has business implications: long payback periods associated with solar technology, complexities and costs associated with connecting remote data centers to local teams, and the impacts of subjecting employees and contractors to harsh working conditions associated with elevated temperatures. So you see, there are trade-offs.


When I was in graduate school, a long time ago, I took a course in energy policy. The professor made a generalized statement to the class: “If something costs more, it probably has a greater negative impact on the environment.” The point he was making is that you have to look at things very broadly. For example, if there was a lot more labor cost involved in generating a product then you have to include the environmental consequences associated with that added labor. 


Taking a broad perspective is why I believe NetApp truly excels in data center sustainability.  Not only have we enabled our data centers and labs to be highly energy-efficient, we have also developed design concepts and construction processes that allow us to deliver the facility capacity at a fraction of industry averages. In fact, in terms of end-user cost per unit of data center capacity, delivering lower capital costs is as impactful as low energy use. 


So when someone asks me about data center sustainability, I always tell them about how we do our part to keep both energy use and construction cost at a minimum, and that the combination of these two efforts results in what I believe puts our data centers at the forefront of sustainability—helping position NetApp as a leader in corporate social responsibility.


Read the white paper Breaking Down the Glass House: NetApp Global Dynamic Lab Delivers Higher Power Density, Greater Efficiency, and Lower Capital and Operating Coststo learn more about NetApp’s unique data center facility.


Great Write up Mark!