This can be tricky to balance but as newer server technologies are released, the benefits can be striking. We have actively put into practice the following:
While technology changes quickly and the energy savings are compelling, we do recognize the challenge of upgrading systems too quickly and causing an increase in equipment production as well as electronic waste resulting from the retirement of older hardware. Our solution to this has been to stage our upgrades, striking a balance between the gains of upgrades and the e-waste generated in the process.
We upgrade our customer handling systems to newer technologies as needed. Our ultimate goal is to increase our capacity without increasing our power needs. The older client handling systems are then migrated to upgrade our internal/operational servers. The retired internal/operational server are then green e-cycled through companies like Tech Dump, a green electronic recycling provider operating locally in the Minneapolis, MN area.
Finally, with our dedicated use of virtualization technology such as Linux containers and full virtualization, this allows us to migrate clients between physical servers, powering down physical servers when capacity is not needed and powering them up when capacity is required. In the last 5 years alone, the combination of physical server technology advances and our continued use of virtualization has allowed us to actually decrease our needed data center space by 66% and power/cooling needs by 75% while still being able to handle increases to our customer base and meet our customers' needs. We expect to see this trend of rapid changes in server and network technologies continue well into the future.
The sheer amount of resources that go into building out, maintaining, and stocking offices for staff space, largely unused conference rooms, and other areas is staggering in most office environments. Many years ago, we realized that maintaining office space but not requiring staff to come in unless "needed" was a waste of space and resources.
Today, 95% of our staff work 100% remotely, removing the need for dedicated office space and commuting between work and home on a daily basis. The remaining 5% of staff only travel for business when needed. This mostly occurs when installing or upgrading our server infrastructure. Daily management of our entire infrastructure is done 100% remotely as well.
While we own and operate all of our server and networking infrastructure, we do not own our data center space. Therefore, we are not in direct control of whether the data center is buying strictly green power from the energy company or from the general power grid.
As power and cooling are large expenses for data center providers, all of our data center providers have done what they can over the years to increase efficiency and at the same time, green up their operations with air side economizing (pulling air in directly from the outside when temperatures and humidity levels are lower than what HVAC systems normally maintain) to taking advantage of the surrounding environment. In our Minneapolis data center, for example, our data center provider takes advantage of extremely cold late fall to early spring temperatures by switching off compressors in the HVAC systems, only circulating the glycol-based coolant to the cooling towers outside. This provides all the cooling needed without the need of HVAC compressors (similar to a home air conditioner uses). Depending on the weather, this cuts the power requirements for cooling the data center by 60%+ during the year.
So while we can not directly control the overall power or cooling infrastructure at each of our co-location data center providers, we strive to do more to help offset our energy usage and its impact on the world.
By calculating our maximum power usage based on the maximum usable capacity of all our power circuits in each of our data center locations, and our staff members day to day usage, we purchase at least two times that power usage in renewable energy certificates (RECs) from TerraPass a Green-e certified source for RECs. A renewable energy credit (REC)—also sometimes referred to as a renewable energy certificate or green tag—is created for each megawatt-hour (1 MWh, or 1000 kilowatt-hours) of renewable electricity generated and delivered to the power grid. Please visit Green-e for additional details on RECs and their Green-e certification program.