More so than many industries, data centers are ideal candidates for adopting sustainability initiatives.

For starters, they are major consumers of energy. In 2019, data centers and data transmission networks each consumed about one percent of global energy, a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows. Yet between February and mid-April 2020, amid the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, global internet traffic increased by nearly 40 percent.

Fortunately, new products for increasing energy efficiency continue to enter the market and get adopted each year. Striving to increase data center efficiency and meet sustainability goals is a great opportunity for data centers to also modernize their legacy infrastructure and systems.

With that great opportunity comes many pathways for taking advantage of it, too. Data centers employ a variety of systems and infrastructure to function. So, they have many options available concerning the technologies they can modernize to improve their operations and meet sustainability goals.

Before diving into the finer details of achieving better data center modernization and data center sustainability though, it’s important to build and implement a thorough plan for doing so.

Creating a data center modernization plan

A major undertaking like modernizing a data center requires a well-planned process to succeed. As an example, Schneider Electric lays out a four-part framework for modernizing data center facility infrastructure, and its first step is to develop performance standards. After all, if you want to successfully meet goals, you must first define what those goals are.

If you are modernizing legacy systems, the odds are good that your current goals are different than they were when these systems were first installed. Maybe you played no role in the design of the data center you administer.

So, ask yourself how you want your data center to operate after it’s been fully modernized. What should its performance look like? How should your data center’s future performance differ from its current performance?

It’s important to be specific with your goals, too. Ask yourself what exactly modernization should entail, and by what metrics the data center’s performance should be measured.

After defining your standards, it’s important to benchmark them. Analyze the infrastructure and equipment based on its age, maintenance status, and other metrics. Different considerations must be taken with equipment that is at the end of its lifecycle, versus equipment that is just inefficient or inflexible.

At this stage, you might consider how your current equipment will affect your sustainability goals. Be sure to make use of data and metrics obtained from data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tools in this stage, as well.

After benchmarking your equipment and infrastructure, you should have a good idea of your data center’s performance gaps. If you’re going to bring your data center up to optimal performance, you must now figure out how to cover those gaps.

Here (and really, at any stage), you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out for help. You may need to bring in vendors and consultants to get the clearest picture of how to bridge gaps in your performance. Should you buy new equipment, upgrade your equipment or just leave it alone? These are the sorts of considerations you should keep top-of-mind when figuring out potential solutions to your data center gaps.

Addressing multiple data center modernization gaps with single solutions

But sometimes, certain solutions can bridge multiple gaps.

For instance, as the coronavirus pandemic has pushed more of our lives online, it’s made the ability to scale efficiently more important than ever. In November 2020, internet traffic in the U.S. was over 40 percent higher than it was in January, according to data from Cloudflare.

Efficient scaling is especially key to hyperscale data centers. So, if a hyperscale data center’s HVAC system needs to be upgraded, products like electronically commutated (EC) fans could be beneficial on multiple fronts, especially when prioritizing meeting sustainability goals.

EC fans can scale efficiently and adjust quickly to address demand, making them highly energy efficient. They also have extended lifespans compared to AC fans, which are consistently turned on or off. So, not only are EC fans energy sustainable for the environment; they’re also sustainable for data center operations.

Meanwhile, environmental sensors can address several sustainability and operational issues for data centers in general. Gartner and Raritan have shown that for every degree higher in baseline temperature, environmental sensors can save a data center up to 4 percent in energy costs. Compared to just computer room air conditioning (CRAC) unit readings alone, environmental temperature sensors offer a more accurate, real-time view of temperatures.

Environmental sensors with many kinds of functions exist, too. Airflow sensors help you reduce airflow to just what is required in the moment. Contact closure sensors ensure rack safety by detecting when cabinet doors have been opened. Used with DCIM tools, environmental sensors can help you calculate potential savings, reduce operation costs, improve power usage effectiveness (PUE) and more.

Prioritizing data center upgrades before implementation

Plenty of options besides EC fans and environmental sensors are available for data center administrators to modernize their operations and meet sustainability goals. But these options cost money and time to implement, and the final step in the sample framework we referenced from Schneider is to prioritize actions based on four considerations.

Implementation cost and time are both important to consider when planning to modernize data centers. Related to those considerations, it’s important to consider the feasibility of carrying out such changes in a live data center facility with as little disruption as possible.

Additionally, the level of risk that the implementation presents to the disruption of data center IT must be considered. It’s just as important to also understand the risk of not addressing certain gaps that you’ve uncovered.

Many factors are at play when planning to modernize legacy systems at your data center, especially when trying to meet sustainability goals, too. The same is true for actually implementing the data center modernization. It can be helpful to work with consultants at each stage who can present different perspectives and expertise on the many areas of data center modernization and data center sustainability.

Prioritizing the modernization and increasing the energy efficiency of your data center will help ensure that your data center is sustainable towards the environment, as well as sustainable in its operations.