Keeping Data Centers Cool in a Sustainable Way

Yury Lui (MPM ‘09) talks about how the MPM program sparked his career growth and boosted him into a leadership position far sooner than he imagined.

Yury Lui (MPM ‘09) helps reduce the negative environmental impact caused by data centers throughout North America.  

Lui is in a position to make a difference thanks to Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Project Management (MPM) program.  

Yury Lui Since 2021, Lui has served as director of energy and water management at Digital Realty, a real estate investment trust that invests in data centers in more than 25 countries.  

Digital Realty is responsible for more than 310 global data centers that account for more than 35 million square feet. Ensuring the buildings don't overheat takes a tremendous amount of energy. Lui’s job is to find the most energy-efficient, environmentally friendly ways to keep temperatures under control in the company's data centers.  

Inside those centers are computers that store data saved in the cloud, meaning important files, like bank statements, social media photos, and MPM capstone reports, are housed in anonymous buildings in suburbs and industrial areas across the world. 

The anonymity is for security. Advertising where data centers exist makes them and the information they hold more vulnerable to potential threats.  

Far more prevalent of a threat are the high temperatures created by row upon row upon row of information-storing computers. Without cooling, the average data center would not last for 10 minutes. Thus, Lui’s job is vital.   

“The industry has been talking about energy for the last 10-plus years,” Lui said. “The next challenge to tackle is water because there's scarcity. It's a balancing act. If you use less water, then you need to use more cooling and more power to reject the heat.” 

Lui is tasked with finding the most cost-effective balance. He accomplishes his mission by creating benchmarks on energy and water usage, using those benchmarks to find opportunities to improve efficiency, and then going to electricity and water providers to find the money that makes large-scale projects feasible.  

“There's a lot of utility incentives that allow us to offset the costs,” he said. “That is helping us accelerate and execute these energy and water conservation measures and helping pay for it.” 

Lui came to the MPM program in 2003 looking to accelerate his career growth. He was a project manager at the time, and while a lot of the work he did was similar in scope, he was not responsible for making final decisions. The improvements he would recommend would be just that — recommendations.  

The MPM program taught him the skills he needed to land and succeed in a position where he was in control of his own budget and could move ahead with the projects he believed would work best.  

“Last year I had a very decent budget,” he said. “It was basically up to me how to turn that into saving energy and water.”  

Now, nearly two decades removed from his MPM experience, Lui remains an advocate for the program, believing it is an ideal fit for professionals looking to make similar career advancements.  

Lui recognizes that his hard work in the MPM program served as a driver as he advanced to a position of leadership and authority much sooner than he had anticipated.  

“Usually you would see people in their 40s or 50s be the department head, but I was promoted to the department head before 40 years old,” he said. “That, to me, is because of the MPM program.”  


McCormick News Article