Energy Management Revamps the Data Center

By Tony Kontzer Print this article Print
energy-efficient data centers

As the green movement continues to build steam, companies like Acorda Therapeutics and EllisDon are tapping technology to help boost energy efficiency.

Designing From the Ground Up

EllisDon, a $3 billion-a-year construction firm in Mississauga, Ontario, has begun to address that for its clients. In order to thrive in a competitive market, the company has begun designing buildings from the ground up with energy efficiency in mind. Perhaps the most important step it's taken has been to make sure all the components of a facility are tied together.

"Everything in our buildings has been proprietary, so getting information has been tough," says Stephen Foster, director of information and communications systems. "The various elements couldn't talk to each other. Building automation couldn't talk to security, which couldn't talk to the lights, which couldn't talk to the HVAC."

EllisDon has begun putting nonproprietary systems throughout its new buildings. This enables the company to integrate every part of a facility that requires power so that the occupant automatically benefits from better energy-consumption practices.

"The technology we're putting into buildings has exposed data," says Foster. "It's allowed us to have better information and benchmarks to make better management decisions."

For instance, one of EllisDon's clients is a community college that had been booking media rooms by matching the size of the room with the expected number of people. But that scenario is handled much differently in the school's newest building, in which the HVAC system is linked into the room-booking system. That way, rooms are automatically booked to minimize the number of air handlers that are running, resulting in much more efficient energy consumption, says Foster.

Meanwhile, when EllisDon built a new building for a local hospital, it was charged with tackling one of the hospital's biggest energy management problems, namely that numerous employees didn't know how to run the blinds, lights and air conditioning in any of the meeting rooms.

EllisDon configured the building with meeting rooms that enable employees to swipe a personalized smart card that automatically adjusts all the settings. In other words, a meeting organizer who swipes his card gets lighting and temperature that matches his preferences, and any equipment he's requested automatically powers up.

Additionally, the meeting rooms are equipped with sensors that, after detecting no motion for a predetermined period of time, automatically reset the HVAC and window blinds, shut off any lights and equipment, and lock the door.

For now, EllisDon's own less-sophisticated offices cast it as the classic cobbler's child that has no shoes, but Foster says the company plans to build a new headquarters that will allow it to take advantage of its new energy-efficient approach to design. Years from now, he hopes he can say the same for EllisDon's other offices around the world.

IBM's Schmidt says there's no reason every company can't follow in EllisDon's footsteps. They just need to avail themselves of the many tools that can help them find opportunities to improve energy efficiency.

"A lot of the technologies are out there," says Schmidt. "It's about educating people on how to use and implement them."

This article was originally published on 2013-01-30

Tony has been writing about technology and business for nearly 20 years and is a contributor to Baseline.

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