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Climate change is heating up the challenge to keep data centres cool

Fri 9 Aug 2019 | Gavin Murray

Rackspace’s Gavin Murray explores four ways data centre operators can keep facilities cool in an ecological way

A few weeks ago temperatures reached highs of 38°C across the UK, marking the hottest July day on record. This is set to become a more regular occurrence, with predictions that London will face similar temperatures to Barcelona within a couple of decades.

Few are questioning the impact of climate change and instead all industries are having to consider how they can mitigate the causes and manage its impact. And the data centre sector is no exception.

The climate change challenges facing data centres

Rising temperatures pose three new challenges to data centre operators. Firstly, providers must work harder to keep their data centres cool. Keeping the expensive computing equipment from overheating is critical to ensuring the centre can deliver efficient services to its customers. With rising temperatures, the data centre community must actively manage the impact of climate change to ensure their data centres continue to perform optimally.

This, in turn, introduces new cost-efficiency challenges for data centre providers. Cooling is already by far the greatest consumer of electrical power in data centres: it can account for as much as 40 or 50 per cent of all power consumed.

To put this into perspective, in 2015 416.2 terawatt hours of electricity was consumed by the world’s data centres – in the UK, the total consumption was around 300 terawatt – and the global footprint of data centres has rapidly expanded since.

As temperatures rise, cooling will only become more costly for data centre providers if they do not look at new innovative solutions. This cost is likely to fall to customers, leading IT decisions makers to increasingly prioritise the cooling credentials of data centre providers when making their choice.

Finally, data centre providers have a responsibility to address this challenge in an ecological way. Researchers predict that the data centre sector could consume one-fifth of the world’s available electricity by 2025, with an ever-growing volume of data being created and at an accelerating speed. Not only does this put an enormous strain on our energy supplies, it deals a hefty blow to efforts to contain global warming.

It has never been more important for data centre leaders to address these challenges. Not only does the sector have a responsibility to do its bit to reduce climate change, but it will be critical to its future success.

IT decision makers are increasingly looking for innovative approaches to data centre energy management, where providers can pass their power-efficient savings onto their customers.

Furthermore, with a growing number of companies committing to reducing their carbon footprint in line with popular CSR initiatives, the pressure is on IT decision makers to procure data centre providers that can show they are keeping their data centres cool in an ecological way.

“There are opportunities to deliver more environmentally-friendly data centres without compromising on service delivery”

Four ways to optimise energy consumption in data centres

Ensuring that cooling methods don’t introduce higher operating costs or aggravate growing climate issues, whilst simultaneously avoiding downtime for customers, is a critical and complex balance to achieve. However, there are a number of new approaches that are looking to tackle this issue head on, optimising energy consumption while increasing service delivery and scalability.

Liquid hardware cooling

Water is better at absorbing and transporting heat than air, but the preconceived complications surrounding liquid cooling has meant that it’s easier to use an air-based data centre cooling system. However, liquid cooling decreases the pressure on data centre air conditioning because it eliminates the need for fans and decreases CPU power consumptions. It involves chilled water entering the cabinets in the data centre cooling design, reducing the distance between the cooling system and the data, making it more energy efficient.

Indirect outside air-cooling technology

This highly efficient method uses outdoor air to cool data centres, considerably reducing the total energy consumption. It has the potential to provide a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.15, compared to the average data centre rating of 1.7. By using this method, data centre providers can achieve the Open Compute Project (OCP) status, which demonstrates that a data centre provider has implemented the best practices for operations and energy efficiency for all IT equipment. Implementing indirect outside air-cooling technology was a significant contributor to Rackspace’s LON5 facility being recognised as one of the greenest in the UK.

Data centre infrastructure management (DCIM)

Rated as one of the best technology tools by experts, DCIM is key to improved efficiencies and reducing energy consumption. DCIM provides a complete view of a data centre’s performance through real-time insights into collating, storing and analysing data related to power and cooling. It allows data centre providers to create collaboration between a building and its IT systems, analysing PUE and cooling system energy efficiency, and supporting data centre managers with capacity planning and optimising efficiency.

Data centre consolidation

According to the Data Centre Alliance, 62 per cent of data centres are going through consolidation at any given time. An ongoing process, it offers providers the means to streamline their processes to create efficiencies across the business. By combining data centre locations and condensing hardware platforms, providers are able to reduce both the need for additional physical space and, in turn, their energy consumption.

Making a commitment to change

As with many industries, there’s still work to be done to better mitigate the impact of climate change. But it is clear there are opportunities to deliver more environmentally-friendly data centres without compromising on service delivery.

The benefits of more innovative and power-efficient technologies to data centre providers, their customers and – most importantly – the climate are becoming increasingly clear. The avenues to deliver these benefits are on the table and there needs to be a shift in the industry to pursue a more ecological approach to data centre management. This will inevitably be a costly process when retrofitting legacy infrastructure and certainly won’t be achieved overnight, but it will be critical to ensuring the data explosion does not counteract global efforts to address climate change.

Experts featured:

Gavin Murray

Regional Director of Data Centre Engineering & Operations, EMEA


DCIM energy efficiency environment liquid cooling
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