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How Can Data Centers Eliminate Hidden Costs?


Millions of Americans are working from home. Children are taking video lessons and families stream hours of content every night. This flurry of online activity means one thing: Data centers are working overtime.

This is good news for data center operators, who can expect to see an influx of business in the next few months, but this boost in demand also comes with a new set of challenges. Data centers can be very expensive to run — from the equipment to the personnel to the millions of dollars that can be lost in the event of an outage — and some of those costs are not always clear upfront. 

“Operating your own data center can come with a host of unexpected costs,” Environments System architect Joe Plakinger said.

Environments is a company that is honing existing tech tools and creating new ones to help companies fight the challenges that have come with the coronavirus pandemic.

“As the demand for data centers rises, so will these costs, and operators are going to need to find a way to reduce them if they don’t want to start cutting into their bottom lines," he said. 

Plakinger has extensive experience managing and directing data center operations for companies like zColo, Amazon, CoreLink and more. Now, he's helping Environments develop several solutions aimed at helping facility owners combat the costs of operating data centers while keeping both their employees and critical client data safe.

Bisnow spoke with Plakinger and Environments CEO Erin McDannald to learn more about the challenges data center operators face and the tools that can help them overcome them. 

Bisnow: What are the costs associated with running a data center? 

Plakinger: Aside from the obvious costs that come with the ownership and upkeep of the facility and the equipment, there are a lot of hidden costs that can grow rapidly. There’s the personnel cost of having on-site staff day and night, which many data centers do, infrastructure costs that come with having the proper HVAC system needed to keep data centers running, just to name a few. 

Bisnow: How can owners lower data center operating costs?

Plakinger: Let’s start with personnel. Data centers need to be constantly monitored, and safety is the highest priority. If members of the staff contract COVID-19, the results could be disastrous both for the health of the employees and the operations of the facility. We offer several tools that can help owners sanitize these facilities including UV-C lights, UV-C pushcarts that can disinfect from room to room, UV-C air treatment systems and ionization systems. Keeping your people on-site working instead of having to bring on and train temporary staff can go a long way toward keeping personnel costs low.

McDannald: Owners can also drive down lighting costs with smart lights, which are connected to occupancy sensors that will turn off when no one is in an area. We can also help lower operations costs with new technologies like hybrid cloud camera systems and remote access control systems that can eliminate the need for some on-site servers and move some of their data off-site for us to manage. 

Owners can also reduce the expenses that come from HVAC systems and other key building equipment failing by using a modern Building Monitoring System that is actually monitoring everything it should be, like airflow, belts and the power that is coming into them. With our BMS systems, if a belt is wearing out, we will send you an email to let you know before it breaks and your operations are disrupted. These types of problems can lead to data center outages, which can be catastrophic. 

Bisnow: What can happen when data centers go down? 

Plakinger: Along with the massive financial losses that companies can face when data centers go down, there are also safety concerns as well. 

I’ve experienced data center outages that have taken down hospital systems and even entire cities. In one case, a city’s entire 9-1-1 system went down and local hospitals were unable to upload radiological images or move forward with surgeries where one doctor was going to be coaching the other remotely using hospital technology. 

Bisnow: What types of technologies can data center operators install to help keep their staff — and their client’s data — safe? 

Plakinger: Along with the sanitization tools I mentioned, we have air monitoring sensors that can offer important insights about the air in a facility, including airflow or whether it is too humid, or has too much particle matter or volatile organic compounds present, all of which can leave a space more susceptible to viruses. We also have sensors that can help operators with contact tracing so if one employee does report having COVID-19, they can monitor who that employee came in contact with. 

McDannald: For added data safety, we offer autonomous security robots that can do rounds of data center spaces that are normally unoccupied, like parking lots and electrical rooms. They can send camera feeds of those rooms to allow owners to see if anything is amiss, from smoke in the area to signs that someone has broken in. This saves personnel from having to wander around the facility in the middle of the night checking things, allowing them to focus on more important work. Finally, we have access control systems to ensure that no unauthorized person can access critical infrastructure spaces. 

At Environments, we understand what it takes to move data quickly and securely and we will keep adapting to make sure owners have the tools they need to keep these crucial facilities operating, keep their staff safe and give their clients what they need.

Also, while we've been talking a lot about data centers in the last few months, it's important to note that we can adapt these technologies to suit any built environment. Our goal is to create a more efficient, responsive, healthy environment for occupants everywhere.

This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and Environments. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.