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Greener cooling can mean cheaper cooling

Fri 25 Jul 2014

Reducing cost and power consumption whilst increasing efficiency will continue to be a key driver in the data centre agenda says Rob Elder. Could it also mean more inward investment for the UK?

As companies look to save money and reduce their carbon footprint without compromising on resilience, this will continue to drive innovations from throughout the marketplace. Server density has already increased in the last five years albeit not perhaps as much as many had predicted.

But the server manufacturers are now developing equipment to operate at higher temperatures giving greater opportunity for further developments in cooling. With the change in the ASHRAE Thermal Guidelines for Data Processing Environments, the window for allowable conditions has already increased and this could well continue as the technology evolves.

In the UK and Northern Europe, where the weather is cooler, developments such as these make it much easier for the adoption of direct and indirect cooling solutions. However, in the case of indirect solutions, where a separate back up system is not required, there is the opportunity to significantly reduce the number of chillers or even completely remove them. The benefits can be significant with a reduction in capital expenditure, freed up reserved power capacity, a reduction in supporting electrical infrastructure and reduced maintenance and operational costs.

We recently undertook a key project with PGS and upgraded their existing cooling system to incorporate a ‘chillerless’ design, helping to reduce expenditure without comprising on availability and performance. This has enabled PGS to increase capacity and further improve on one of the most efficient data centre facilities in Europe, without affecting availability.

The use of renewable power sources will also be high on the agenda. Earlier this year a high profile Greenpeace report gave kudos to tech giants such as Facebook and Apple for using an increasing amount of renewable electrcity to power their data centres. The research showed that Google, which sells its data centre services to businesses, has been the most ambitious by buying wind energy that is then injected into the local electric grids where it runs data centers.

Microsoft started to do the same last year when it agreed to buy power from a wind farm in Texas. Amazon and some others, on the other hand, earned poor grades from Greenpeace for not showing a willingness to use clean energy for their data centres. As a result many data centres are now being located in Northern Europe, close to the renewable energy sources such as hydro and wind available in these countries. Locating here delivers cost savings and environmental benefits because data centre owners or providers can buy environmentally friendly energy at low costs.

However, data centres that are still mainly located in metropolitan areas or geographies such as the UK and Western Europe, for business and increasingly data sovereignty reasons, are restricted when it comes to accessing renewable energy. One option in these regions is waste-to-energy plants which have the added benefit of being able to take advantage of bi-products such as hot water or steam to provide ‘free’ cooling.

We are starting to see specialist renewable energy companies developing data centres next to these power plants. This offers a true low carbon solution with lower long term costs for energy. Combined with the ‘free’ cooling this could make a compelling case for new data centre deployments in places like the UK.

In conclusion, the drive to get low cost and green cooling solutions will continue to be a big focus for the data centre industry. Will all data centres be built in Sweden and Finland? No, but with the continued growth of cloud computing and data centres as a whole, there is an increasing need for highly efficient ‘greener’ data centre facilities that minimise environmental impact. These are exciting times for the data centre industry.

Rob Elder is a director at Keysource

Based on an article that first appeared in Data Centre Management magazine, Summer 2014 

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carbon cooling data centre feature green
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