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Upholding the U.S. Federal Government’s Commitment to Sustainable Data Centers

At a time of increasing cyberattacks, ransomware demands and threats from natural disasters, our government leaders are in complete and bipartisan agreement that we must take greater steps to bolster the physical and digital infrastructure of federal data centers. But along with maintaining higher standards for cybersecurity, resiliency, and availability, comes the federally mandated responsibility to build and design data centers that can meet aggressive sustainability, carbon reduction and water conservation targets. Especially as the technology and data needs of the U.S. Federal Government and public agencies grow, data center energy efficiency and sustainability will become an ever more important element of the government’s push towards IT modernization and the transition to zero-carbon emissions.

Far beyond purchasing renewable energy certificates or incremental improvements in PUE, sustainability begins with how they are designed, constructed, and operated.

Sustainability has become a core pillar of the business strategy for modern data center providers and their customers. Powering data center portfolios with renewable energy and working hand-in-hand with both Federal Government and public customers to achieve their carbon reduction goals has become a critical requirement to help them achieve their sustainability goals and requirements. So, let’s take a deep dive look into sustainability at the data center level.

Sustainability Starts with Design and Construction

When it comes to sustainability, a lot of focus is placed on data center facilities in operation and how much power is used.  Powering a facility with renewable energy is one thing. However, a sound and sustainable infrastructure strategy actually starts with analyzing the data center providers’ design principles and construction processes. Looking at a data center’s lifecycle from a holistic perspective is critical to meeting sustainability objectives. Providers should consider sustainability from site selection through operation, maintenance, and – if warranted – decommission or demolition.

For example, when it comes to sustainability, how you build a data center is as important as what you build it with. Factory-based construction of modular mechanical and electrical plant containers, deployed and delivered on site as needed, can help minimize occurrences of leaching into the water table and other issues sometimes associated with stick-built construction.

A data center provider’s ability to deploy our mechanical and electrical systems in small increments, and only when additional capacity is needed, also contributes to sustainability because resources that aren’t being utilized for an extended amount of time are not being deployed and stranded. This provides for responsible use of constrained resources and reduces government sector customers’ carbon footprint.

In addition to sustainability considerations, this modular approach ensures government customers meet brisk speed-to-mission targets, while remaining relatively unaffected by market fluctuations or supply chain obstacles. It also allows Federal Government and public agency data centers to judiciously scale their IT environments as their needs grow.

Saving Energy, Reducing Cost

Further advancing Federal Government and public agency commitments to energy efficiency and sustainability are efficient cooling technologies, capable of reducing power consumption and space needed to operate, as well as decreases the costs and water usage (or completely eliminating water usage) associated with data center cooling. A key element of efficient data center cooling is capturing and removing heat at its source, rather than pushing cold air into the data hall as in most legacy data centers. Another is dynamically adapting to IT loads and allowing variable densities of up to 50kW per rack within the same data hall.

In the face of rising densities due to technologies such as AI/ML/DL, a scalable data center infrastructure and cooling system flexible enough to integrate with water-cooled infrastructure to accommodate the high temperatures associated with supercomputing environments is also a key consideration.

However, if deployments don’t run at ultra-high densities, the ability to combine cooling technologies with waterless heat rejection systems provides an excellent opportunity for government customers to virtually eliminate water from their data center platform. Along with water conservation, waterless cooling technologies can offer a near-complete elimination of water treatment chemicals that can pose safety risks when exposed to operations personnel.

Tracking Carbon at the Source

A key aspect of measuring sustainability and environmental impact is having a data center portal that encompasses clear emissions data alongside capabilities like asset monitoring, ticketing, business intelligence, and capacity forecasting. This provides Federal, hyperscaler and Systems Integrator end-users with the ability to monitor, manage, control and future-proof their data center environment.

To further track their embodied carbon footprint, data center operators should track carbon emissions across their supply chains and circular asset management, as well as work with trusted suppliers that both share and uphold their sustainability mandates and goals. Tracing the complete lifecycle of data center equipment and devices as well as identifying material recovery and recycling options is another critical aspect of customers’ sustainability strategies.

Investing in Digital Infrastructure and a Greener Planet

Data centers backed by sustainable funding are more likely to have financing tied to core environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). It also means that sustainability likely plays a critical role in their critical expansion and partnership decisions. A commitment to sustainability in future developments can be a driving force behind decisions relating to securing land and power.

Delivering Uncompromised Security

Data center provider should continue making investments in the security of their facilities – both physical and digital – to satisfy government requirements. This includes completing certifications such as FISMA Moderate or FISMA High security control compliance.

In order to meet the requirements of both Defense and Civilian Government Agencies, including ICD705 compliance as well as TEMPEST regulations, knowledgeable providers utilize a security-in-depth (SID) approach at their Federal data centers to ensure their government customers’ data is secure. This enables that to be able to work with Department of Defense (DoD), Federal Civilian and Intelligence Community (IC) agencies that require the highest levels of security. Moreover, providers should also able to build to Sensitive Compartment Information Facilities (SCIF) standards, either through a retrofit of current space or a greenfield deployment.

Progress, But More to Accomplish

As in the private sector, the trend towards digital transformation has demanded a rapid scaling up of IT capacity among U.S. Federal Government agencies. In turn, managing the energy consumption associated with federal data center operations has become ever more critical as government and public agencies increasingly rely on these facilities to carry out their missions.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Center of Expertise for Energy Efficiency in Data Centers has pointed out that efficient operation of federal data centers stands not only to reduce energy consumption and costs, but offers security, reliability and resiliency benefits as well. However, in fiscal year 2022, U.S. federal agencies reported mixed progress in meeting the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) data center optimization targets, which consisted of improving availability, implementing advanced energy metering, identifying and reducing underutilized servers, and the use of virtualization whenever possible.

There’s undoubtedly been progress, but more works needs to be done. Data centers need to work alongside their government customers in pursuit of these goals and can assist them in taking their data center energy efficiency and sustainability optimization to the next level.

Contact us today to learn more about Aligned’s Federal Data Center Solution