A cool problem to have: meeting the energy efficiency needs of data centres

Brendan Leaonard, Stulz

Data centre operators need suppliers that do more than ask how much cooling is required

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14 December 2018 | 0

Energy efficiency is one of the most critical issues facing data centres and colocation facilities today. Data centres are essential for delivering modern digital services to businesses but operating them requires a lot of power. It is estimated that it takes around 3% of the world’s total electricity consumption just to cool data centre infrastructure, and forecasts suggest this figure could triple by the next decade.

The more energy a data centre consumes, the more expensive it is to run. That is why it is vital for data centre operators to build energy efficiency into the very design of their sites. To do this effectively means thinking about cooling in an integrated way.

For more than 40 years since first moving into the data centre market, Stulz has gained a wealth of experience in climate customisation. In recent years, we have actively pursued an acquisition strategy aimed at investing in complementary technologies such as high-density cooling, air handling units, chillers, as well as complete modular- and micro data centres, so that our customers can benefit from improvements in efficiency and manage their running costs.

In addition, Stulz provides software and systems integration services. These latter aspects are critical: data centre operators need a supplier that is prepared to do more than just ask how much cooling they need and how much they want to pay for it. To ensure a data centre continues to run optimally into the future, it is essential for providers to understand the owner’s environment. This requires a consultative approach, starting with a conversation about the facility operator’s future plans, and how they intend to address scalability.

Customers will naturally always want the most energy-efficient design, but the key is to provide a design that suits their specific facility. As Ireland’s data centre market has grown in recent years, some commentators have pointed to our low ambient air temperature as a positive aspect. That is true up to a point: the annual mean temperature in Ireland is around 11 degrees Celsius and in theory all of this fresh air allows facilities to avail of free cooling for up to eight months of the year. In reality, however, those designs only work for certain applications or in certain situations.

Bringing external influences can introduce problems: if there was a fire near a data centre, the smoke could end up inside the facility. Furthermore, Ireland’s air tends to have a high saline content, which could have a corrosive effect on a data centre’s floors, ceilings, servers and lights over time.

“Data centre operators need a supplier that is prepared to do more than just ask how much cooling they need and how much they want to pay for it. To ensure a data centre continues to run optimally into the future, it is essential for providers to understand the owner’s environment”

The other question to consider is scalability: data centres are rarely full of servers and storage on their first day of operation, yet in our experience, some providers are running their cooling systems at full capacity even though the site is not producing high levels of heat. Our biggest considerations are energy efficiency and reducing the customer’s power usage effectiveness, or PUE. We advise a ‘low load’ strategy that is designed to scale as the data centre ramps up capacity.

Low load is an aspect that many customers don’t think about when designing a data centre. It is one we are happy to discuss, along with our extensive portfolio. From January 2019, Irish data centre operators and hosting companies will be able to deal directly with Stulz’s wholly owned Irish subsidiary. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Brendan Leonard, managing director, Stulz UK and Stulz Ireland

 

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