How do climate, law and new technologies change cooling systems?

A wave of unprecedented heat has come over Europe this summer. For holiday-makers, this is good news, but for companies and data centers, where IT infrastructure generates huge amounts of heat, quite on the contrary. Here high temperature means, by definition, higher costs.

The demand for energy in data centers has been growing systematically. This is owed to both the number of digital data processed and the need to secure the ICT ecosystem. Cooling systems are one of the largest consumers of energy.

ABB Research Center estimates that as much as 40% of energy consumed by data centers is intended solely for the supply of cooling systems. This generates huge costs for companies. DCD Census estimates that, in some cases, 50% of operating costs of a data center operator are for this purpose only. Hence, the implementation of energy-efficient cooling systems is becoming an increasingly pressing need. However, this is not an easy task, especially as systems regulating climatic conditions, like other elements affecting the security of the entire data center complex, must be highly reliable.

In search of energy efficiency

In the opinion of Keystone company, the basic guarantee of an energy-saving and efficient data center cooling system is the selection of appropriate tools, followed by its regular inspections and maintenance. This would seem an obvious and not really revealing conclusion, but improperly designed power and cooling infrastructure in data centers results in energy losses of 60 million MWh a year worldwide. In this context, it is clear how important it is to choose a data center operator for your infrastructure that cares about energy efficiency.

Data centers can now be cooled using classic compressor air conditioning devices, directly with fresh air (if atmospheric conditions are suitable), or by immersion in liquids. The so-called adiabatic cooling, which works by evaporating water while reducing the temperature, has also attracted a growing group.

However, the fastest, and the cheapest way to reduce energy consumption in terms of cooling is to move away from conservative treatment of environmental parameters. Clients and IT specialists usually specify the required temperature in the server room at 18-22°C, and humidity within 40-60%, while almost all modern servers can work at temperatures up to 35°C and humidity between 10 and 90%. It is worth remembering that every °C and % of humidity contributes to measurable savings.

For the sake of the environment

In the coming years, changes in the area of data center cooling will certainly be also affected by new law regulations aimed at protecting the environment. Many data centers around the world already undergo controls to limit the use of certain cooling factors due to their contribution to the growing warming potential.

In the case of Europe, already in 2015, an EU Regulation on cooling F-gases entered into force, which assumed a gradual reduction in the use of, among others, HFC gas, so that by 2025 the reduction would amount to 79%. On the one hand, this triggered an increase in the prices of refrigerants, on the other, it forced an innovative approach and the development of new cooling technologies for server rooms.

In many countries, work on the greater use of natural refrigerants, i.e. factors with low growing warming potential has been intensified. These are, among others, propane and ammonia. The latter is very well suited for high-power cooling installations, e.g. in industry, but is also highly flammable, which is not a good choice for objects such as data centers.

Currently, intensive work is underway on the so-called fourth generation of refrigerants – factors with low growing warming potential and, at the same time, slow-burning. However, due to its novelty, the solution will certainly not be cheap.

In order to promote best practices conducive to climate protection, the European Code of Conduct for Energy Efficiency in Data Center was established. This EU program is managed by the Joint Research Center operating within the structures of the European Commission. Since its launch in 2008, more than 100 participants have joined the initiative, including Atman as the only Polish representative of the data center market, as well as enterprises from outside Europe, such as American eBay. In total, many organizations have already supported the program, including IBM, Microsoft and Dell.

Future is now

In search of a way to reduce energy consumption, and at the same time appropriate cooling of IT infrastructure and lowering costs, it is worth considering the possibilities that the future and technology development brings. For example, Google has used artificial intelligence for this purpose. Using the DeepMind machine learning mechanism in its data centers, the American giant managed to reduce the amount of energy consumed by air conditioning systems by up to 40%, and to increase the efficiency of power use by 15%.

According to experts from Schneider Electric, the future belongs to solutions based on water. Just as we cool ourselves on a hot day at lakes, rivers or seas, data centers can also use natural water reservoirs. This is the case for the Google server room built on the Gulf of Finland and fully cooled with seawater. Microsoft has launched Project Natick – installed a data center under water, and more precisely on the seabed near the Scottish Orkney Islands. The structure resembling a submarine is submerged to a depth of 12 meters and holds 864 servers. However, such solutions pose other challenges, such as extended hydraulic systems, manner of delivery of other utilities (electricity, telecommunications) or providing physical access to devices.

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