energycioinsights

Empower the Data Center

By Matt Keller, Director of IT Infrastructure & Operations, IGS Energy

Matt Keller, Director of IT Infrastructure & Operations, IGS Energy

As IT professionals look at the landscape of IT infrastructure, it’s not difficult to see where the trends lie when it comes to where companies store and operate the backend systems that run their day-to-day functions. Cloud Solutions such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud continue to battle it out on the “Infrastructure as a Service” playing field. When you add in the local, regional, and national Data Center (DC) providers, there are number of options that IT leaders can choose from when deciding where critical systems reside. However, when looking at the number of legacy systems that are simply too expensive or difficult to migrate, as well as the majority of companies looking to take a more Hybrid IT Infrastructure approach as opposed to going “all-in” into the cloud, it’s clear that the on-premise DC is still an important piece of the IT pie. The question becomes how to best utilize a DC and get as much value from it as possible? 

“Finding a provider that can be a long term partner for any IT infrastructure needs can be critical to a company’s success” 

Use the right technologies: 

Any DC will have the prerequisite UPS systems required to ensure the continual flow of electricity when street power is lost, but before the generator systems kick in. However, another popular option is the utilization of fly wheel technology to assist in power generation when minor street power outages, or blips in power, occur. When street power is momentarily cut, instead of batteries picking up the load before the generator kicks on, the fly wheel continues to run, providing power to the DC until street power is restored. While this can last only a couple of seconds at most, the reduction in the wear and tear on the battery backup systems is significant, and plays a big part in ensuring the stability and longevity of those systems.  
 
The backup generator is another hallmark of any DC, whether it be on-premise or otherwise. Typically powered by diesel engines, the hybrid Natural Gas/Diesel generator is becoming an attractive option as diesel prices continue to fluctuate while natural gas, historically, retains a more consistent price. Natural gas is also a much cleaner burning fuel so it will appeal to those companies who are environmentally conscious and are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. It is that type of device that we currently utilize at IGS’ on-site DC. Diesel is utilized for the initial turnover of the engine as it gets warmed up, as well as for providing lubricant to the moving parts – and after about 15 seconds, natural gas will begin to run the generator for the duration of its use.  

Use it for more than just IT: 

While a DC’s primary function is the storing, operating, and protecting of the infrastructure systems that run the business, utilizing the DC for purposes that reside outside of IT can bring significantly value to a corporation. For instance, capturing the heat that is generated by the DC’s equipment and using it to augment existing climate control systems can increase the efficiency of the DC, as well as reduce the cost of heating and cooling the corporate building. IGS has integrated the DC into our geothermal climate control loop that maintains the temperature within the building. The heat generated by the equipment is captured and sent to the heat pump to heat cool spots within the building during the cold winter months. In contrast, as the weather warms up in the spring and summer, we utilize the heat exchangers within our geo-thermal pond to assist with the dissipation of the heat as it travels through the geothermal loop. This setup allows us to be extremely efficient in how we heat and cool our building, and it brings additional value to the DC over and above that of protecting our infrastructure.  

Companies with on-premise DC’s can better leverage their generator capabilities by taking part in Demand Response programs setup by Electric Utilities and Independent System Operators throughout the country. This voluntary program permits the operating entity to reach out to the corporation in times when the draw on the electric grid is high, and ask that they switch the building over to generator power, thereby reducing the load and enabling the operating entity to continue to provide electricity to its customers without having to power on additional plants. In return, the corporation receives a stipend each year to take part in this program and be available whenever the need arises. It’s this type of program that IGS has taken part in these last several years with great success. In addition to helping maintain our local grid, IGS utilizes this program as a way to do yearly “load testing” on our generator systems. By voluntarily taking ourselves off the grid and onto generator power during our highest load months, we are helping to ensure the continued operation of our local electricity grid, and safeguarding ourselves against generator failure should we have a need anytime during the year. 

Find the right partner: 

While an on-premise DC is big part of any company’s day-to-day functions, IT leaders cannot solve all infrastructure challenges solely within our location. The ever-increasing demands of the business, the prevalence of Cloud Solutions, and the need for Disaster Recovery / Business Continuity dictate that we look outside the on-premise DC for solutions to solve additional business needs. Finding a provider that can be a long term partner for any IT infrastructure needs can be critical to a company’s success. Whether that is one of the larger Cloud Solution providers such as Azure, or your local co-location data center, a partnership can grant significant flexibility in how any given challenge is tackled. For example, when IGS discovered that one of the regional Data Center providers, Expedient, was building a new DC directly across the street from our headquarters, we built a partnership with them that will help to serve our goals into the future.  

To this end, we decided to purchase and lay our own strands of fiber between our DC and the newly-built Expedient building to provide us with significant agility when it comes to identifying solutions to our current and future challenges. This fiber builds a lasting connection and partnership that we can leverage to provide the maximum amount of agility when it comes to the provisioning of new services and infrastructure.     

The energy industry, like the IT industry, is continuously evolving. As such, how we utilize our on-premise data centers and off-premise solutions will need to evolve as well. Creating the right operating environment will put any organization in an excellent position to tackle an ever-changing environment and achieve their goals well into the future.

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