The unquenchable thirst of the data centre
Thu 1 Sep 2016
Richard Jenkins, Senior Vice President at cloud-based Big Data platform Romonet, explains the importance of understanding water in the data centre, and what can be done to reduce usage…
From the perspective of the business, the sole requirement for any data center operator is that their facilities are constantly available. Every ATM transaction, every social media interaction, every delayed train notification, is powered by the data center. The financial implications of any failure are huge. They simply cannot fail, yet many still do.
Downtime can occur for a number of reasons, many of which are easily preventable. Yet, in recent years, the C-level requirements of a data center have extended to include an urgent need for greater financial management and energy efficiency. The overarching consequence of this drive for efficiency is that there are trade-offs.
As with any new technical development, something has to give. It is often capital investment, but in the case of power efficiency, it is, ironically, environmental sustainability.
Extensive research shows that with energy efficiency comes huge amounts of water consumption. This is partly because many data centers are now using ‘adiabatic cooling’, a technique that involves evaporating water in vast quantities. The entire process is even more concerning once water storage, collection, treatment, and ionization are added to the CSR equation.
There is already a distinct financial disadvantage to wasteful resource usage
Adding to this challenge is the issue of location. For example, look at where data centers are built in North America. Many are in the country’s most arid states – California, Arizona, Nevada and Texas – where water supplies have been under pressure due to drought conditions and sustained population growth.
In some countries, there is a more social imperative for people to take action. In Maharashtra, India, one of the most drought-ridden regions in the country, the government had to import drinking water for inhabitants. Also in the region are a number of large-scale colocation data centers. Undoubtedly, the spotlight will be falling on these facilities and their use of water for cooling purposes.
Whetting the appetite for change
Obviously, in our modern interconnected world, we cannot just turn off water supplies to facilities. What operators need to do is find is a balance to satisfy business stakeholders, shareholders, the press and green lobbyists.
It is not good enough to sit idle. In the future, improvements may be made because of outside pressures, but why wait? There is already a distinct financial disadvantage to wasteful resource usage, especially if water prices start to rise. Now is the appropriate time to leverage the available opportunities and tangible improvements that await.
One solution to enhance this process is predictive analytics and the value of gaining accurate performance data. This level of insight has only recently become available with the emergence of Big Data and predictive analytics tools that enable businesses to utilize this data for future decisions. Armed with the right technology platform, executives, Finance, Operations and Engineering can work closely together to ensure availability and to deliver positive corporate outcomes.
The most important step is to precisely understand how much water is being used, where and what can be done to reduce usage
Organizations that better manage their water consumption are in good company. Prominent international companies such as Google, Orange, and Apple have been embracing similar initiatives focused on renewable energy. And only two months ago Facebook announced that it was expanding its new data center project in County Meath, Ireland and would be sourcing 100% renewable energy to power the site for at least ten years.
Sustainable water usage presents similar advantages. The public’s perceptions will likely be positive, the organization can demonstrate how it is improving water efficiency to the rest of the business and overall water efficiency translates to better financial management.
The most important step is to precisely understand how much water is being used, where and what can be done to reduce usage. A business that answers these questions with uncertainty risks facing negativity in the future from a number of sources. An organization that responds positively will be in a much stronger position.