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Criteria for Selecting a Site for Building

a Sustainable Data Center

Andr Meyer, 29.11.2014
Key Facts

An environmentally sustainable data center optimizes the efficient use of resources (e.g. energy,
water or carbon) and uses green energy, where applicable.
Selecting cooler regions can drastically reduce the energy usage costs of cooling the data center
and results in a more sustainable energy consumption.
Companies can select a site that offers green energy, based on renewable or alternative sources.
Often, companies optimize the sustainability of their data centers to save money and to
maintain an image as a green company, rather than to protect the environment.

Building a new data center is often associated with significant long-term investments and enterprises
need to carefully select a suitable site for its construction. This bears risks for its affected
stakeholders, including customers, employees, locals and the government, and may have negative
effects on nature. Recently, an increasing number of companies are also taking environmental
sustainability into account when planning to build a data center [8]. An environmentally sustainable
data center offers its users a cloud service that tries to efficiently use available resources, e.g. by
reducing the consumption of energy or water, and relies on green energy, where applicable.
This fact sheet presents criteria to support decision makers in their process of finding a suitable site
for building a new data center and focuses on a sites factors that influence the environmental
sustainability of such a data center.
General Site Criteria to Consider
Various work has tried to aggregate criteria that were used by companies to identify an optimal site
for building a data center. Environmental conditions such as the climate and the occurrence of natural
hazards can play a key role in the reliability of a data center [1, 3, 4, 6]. They also have a significant
impact on the energy consumption of a data center, as discussed in the next chapter. Infrastructure
conditions such as vulnerabilities and the reliability of the power and fiber infrastructure should also
be taken into account. The local infrastructure must offer reliable supply [3, 4], come from multiple
independent suppliers [1, 3, 4, 6] and with affordable and stable prizes [4]. Different site-level criteria
such as an adequate supply of skilled constructors, technicians, facility maintainers, and security
specialist and a good proximity of the site to customers and workforce are success relevant [1, 3, 4].
Governmental and socio-economic criteria, including taxes, regulations and potential incentives, play
a key role in the selection process as they may delay or prohibit the construction of a data center or
significantly increase or reduce the costs of such a project [3, 4]. Additionally, political and social
instability, high cyber-spy or intellectual property theft activity, and a national legislation that grants
governments too much power for seizing corporate data might be major reasons against a site [3, 6].

Why Companies Optimize the Energy Consumption of their Data Centers

Related Work [4, 8] suggested that environmental sustainability plays only a minor role during the
site selection process, as companies often base their decision on several of the previously mentioned
criteria to optimize construction and sustaining costs, and only later try to optimize the data center
to be environmental friendly, e.g. by optimizing the hardware [10] or software algorithms [9].
Reasons are often business decisions such as saving energy consumption costs or improving the
brand value by certifying a data center (e.g. with the LEED standard [12] or the Energy Star Rating
[13]), rather than protecting our environment [4].
Site Criteria to Ensure Building an Environmentally Sustainable Data Center
However, the site itself can also influence how efficiently resources such as power and water are used
and impact the environmental sustainability of a data center [7]. For example, the sites climate can
significantly affect the efficiency of data center cooling and its design, which in turn affects the energy
consumption. Optimizing cooling could result in high potential savings as it accounts for 32% of the
total energy consumption of a data center [2]. High outside temperatures increase cooling needs,
which is why colder regions are preferable [1, 4, 6, 7]. Water cooling might be a viable alternative
when high-velocity winds prohibit outside air cooling [2, 4]. On the other hand, many companies are
trying to avoid water cooling as water resources are getting scarce [7].
Following the definition of an environmentally sustainable data center, companies could also select
a site that offers renewable resources or alternative energy choices, such as solar, wind or geothermal
energy [5, 7]. Regions with unstable energy supply often require a company to build a redundant
standby-system, which results in additional emissions of carbon dioxide and increased pollution of
the environment [3, 6].
Different organizations are trying to quantify the efficiency of using power (e.g. PUE or DCIE), carbon
(e.g. CUE) and water (WUE) in data centers [11]. This information could help companies to measure
the success of their efforts in optimizing the resource usage and in evaluating a better design, site
and operation for their data center.
Making Trade-Offs
From all the criteria presented in this fact sheet, there is no geographic location for building a data
center that fits all selection criteria and fulfills all requirements for an environmentally sustainable
data center [4]. Every enterprise needs to base its decision on their core needs and carefully balance
the conditions, risks, chances and drawbacks in order to enable informed decision making. The result
of this process is a site choice that mostly offers advantages to the stakeholders and offers
possibilities to build the data center environmentally sustainable.

[1] Top 5 places to build a new data center (December 10, 2011). Latimer J. Retrieved November 29, 2014,
[2] Cloud Computing und zuknftige Struktur von Rechenzentren. Vorstellung der Ergebnisse einer
Untersuchung des Borderstep Instituts (2011). Hintermann R. Retrieved November 29, 2014, from
[3] Intel White Paper: Selecting a Data Center Site: Intels Approach (February, 2014). Mena M., Musilli J.,
Austin E., Lee J., Vaccaro P. Retrieved November 29, 2014, from
[4] Setting Your Sights on a Data Center: Business and Technology Decisions Drive Ciscos Data Centersite
Selection Process (2008). Retrieved November 29, 2014, from
[5] Sustainability in Todays Data Center (April 26, 2012). Vokoun R. Retrieved November 29, 2014, from
[6] Choosing an Optimal Location for Your Data Center (September 30, 2005). Alger D. Retrieved November
29, 2014, from
[7] Future Datacenter Sustainability: Executive Strategy Brief (2011). Retrieved November 29, 2014, from
[8] Clicking Clean: How Companies are Creating the Green Internet (April, 2014). Retrieved November 29,
2014, from
[9] Gayathri B., Green Cloud Computing. Sustainable Energy and Intelligent Systems (SEISCON 2012). pp. 1-5.
[10] 4 Reasons Why Cloud Computing is Also a Green Solution (July 27, 2011). Mines C. Retrieved November
29, 2014, from
[11] Green Grid Association. Retrieved November 29, 2014, from
[12] Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED). Retrieved November 29, 2014, from
[13] EECA Energywise: Energy Star. Retrieved November 29, 2014, from

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