BT Group retrofits to reduce carbon footprint

Fulfilling the demand for broadband to millions of users across the globe takes more than just ingenuity, it takes energy - lots of it.


A savings pool, and a test bed, too

Overall, the 21st Century Network Data Center Project has thus far resulted in savings of US$7.4 million in electricity costs, as well as a 60 percent reduction in the company's UK carbon footprint.

And the project is also turning out to be a proving ground for BT datacentres to come. "What we're also pursuing is a blueprint for a datacentre based on these core components. Any new build capability we do now, we introduce all of those things into this design process," Needham said, estimating that his team will deliver this blueprint for energy-efficient datacentres by September.

Young, who counts taking a leadership position on sustainable IT practices among the chief motivating factors behind BT's green tech push, concedes that advocacy is easier when the returns on investment are worthwhile.

"There aren't any altruistic companies out there doing things sheerly for the benefit of the planet and nothing else," Young said. "All of this has been done on a business-case basis."

But as colleague Steve Rayner, global head of datacentres, customer experience management, and end-user technology at BT, noted, awareness of the impact technology has on the climate is beginning to shift opportunities to those companies willing to make a change.

"You can attract business by changing your operations to be more green and more socially responsible, because a lot of companies measure their carbon footprint not only by what they directly consume when they're delivering services but also their suppliers and vendors, what energy they're consuming to deliver that as well," Rayner said. "I think there are opportunities in the market, and there will be more so around that in the years to come."

Time to revisit equipment and warranty standards?

The biggest benefit the 21st Century Network Data Center Project itself may have on the environment could come with work the BT Group has undertaken with the Green Grid, a consortium aimed at reducing datacentre power consumption industrywide.

Because what BT has found undertaking its 21st Century Network Data Center Project is that traditional standards in manufacturers' warranties could also benefit from some retrofitting.

"When you look at a traditional kit that goes into a datacentre, it has a warranty that says it must be kept cool at 22 degrees [Celsius, or 72 degrees Fahrenheit]," Young said. "And that was probably set around 1974, when we had magnetic tape, and we don't have magnetic tape anymore."

In BT's now fresh-air-cooled datacentres, temperatures climb as high as 35 degrees Celsius [95 degrees Fahrenheit] -- with no impact on performance. "We're not seeing the fault rates that would be expected," said Needham, who is also testing the effect of humidity beyond standardised ranges.

"If we can warm up the datacentres, we would save huge amounts of energy across the globe," Young added. "We're sitting on the Green Grid, pushing suppliers to reevaluate what they do, and we're getting traction. We're at a stage where they value our input because we are really pushing them to make significant changes."

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