Meeting the Demand for Truly High Performance, Sustainable and Flexible Data Centers

Meeting the Demand for Truly High Performance, Sustainable and Flexible Data Centers

Article Featured in Networks Europe Magazine
By: Andy Connor, Director – EMEA Channel

The data center industry faces potentially opposing challenges over the next few years. On the one hand, the demands of our digital age show no sign of stopping, and with 5G expected to reach mainstream adoption, one could reasonably argue that the digital infrastructure required to support such applications is going to increase significantly. What’s clear is that it needs to be agile, scalable, quick-to-deploy, and, above all, efficient, if it is to meet the users’ expectations.

At the same time the data center industry, as a major power consumer, must become more sustainable, and move forward from the easy wins of carbon offsetting to a much more sophisticated programme of carbon reduction and eventual elimination – Net Zero.

Set against these twin objectives, optimising data center performance has never been more important, and in order to achieve this, at Subzero Engineering, we believe a number of things have to happen:

Data drives decision-making
Cliché or not, the saying that ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage or improve it’ remains true. For data center owners and operators, this means understanding either how your existing facility performs under varying environmental conditions and identifying ways to improve it. This may mean major modernizations work will need to take place where efficiencies are lacking. Or designing a new facility, which offers the layout, optimum flexibility and environmental performance to meet the constantly changing requirements of digital customers alongside sustainability targets.

Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software will play an increasingly important role when it comes to data center design and construction, retrofit and helping to improve the efficiency and performance of legacy data centers. It allows the simulation of an endless combination of racks, cabinets, cabling and mechanical and engineering (M&E) equipment, with the anticipated IT load, to ensure optimization. In providing data-driven analysis of the cold and hot air within the data center, CFD analysis also delivers optimized layout recommendations and highlights how energy costs can be reduced by optimising and maximising cooling usage throughout the data center. Such an Environmental Impact Evaluation provides valuable information to help operators reduce energy usage and carbon emissions and will play a critical role in meeting Net Zero data centers.

Modernization is critical
Armed with the data, it’s time for action. And this is where I believe that data center containment solutions can play a critical role – especially as data center owners/operators look to improve both the IT and environmental performance of new and legacy facilities. The benefits are many, and both hot and cold aisle containment solutions optimize the interaction of the cold supply and hot exhaust air within the data center. This eliminates hot spots and significantly reduces the prospect of equipment failure. It also applies to the M&E and the IT hardware, both of which might otherwise be challenged to cope with extreme, unregulated temperatures. Improved reliability is a prerequisite for today’s digital applications.

A new kind of micro data center will emerge, that is truly vendor agnostic, with the user’s choice of data center components

Once installed, containment solutions provide major environmental benefits, including higher cooling supply temperatures, lower CRAC fan speeds, a lower carbon footprint and a lower PUE. Another key containment outcome is significantly reduced energy usage, hence a smaller energy bill. Combined with an energy management and monitoring programme, containment solutions also allow operators to extend the lifecycle of their systems, which is a major sustainability win.

Greater flexibility at the edge
The edge infrastructure market is predicted to surge over the next two years, but today is dominated by small-scale micro data centers which are often pre-populated, single rack solutions. This can mean little flexibility in terms of their make-up, size or ability to scale up a single system in a modular manner and that the key needs of our digital age – flexibility, agility, scalability, speed – may not be met.

We believe that a new kind of micro data center will gain momentum in the coming months, one that can be truly vendor agnostic, and designed with the user’s choice of data center components (power, cooling, racks, cabling, safety systems). Such systems can be provided as standardized, but highly flexible or fully customized solutions, enabling the user to define their edge based on the business requirements. Furthermore, they can offer a 20-30 percent cost saving when compared to a fully containerized micro data center.

As we look towards Net Zero, sustainability and performance demands must be met. It requires greater flexibility in our infrastructure and a data driven approach to design and deployment.

Data Center Containmenthigh performancemicro data centersustainability
atNorth, Subzero Standardize Approach to HPC Colocation

atNorth, Subzero Standardize Approach to HPC Colocation

Article Featured in Data Centre Magazine

A case study by Subzero Engineering shows how leading Nordic data centre services firm atNorth was able to standardise its approach to HPC colocation

SUMMARY
atNorth is a leading Nordic data centre services organization based in Reykjavik, Iceland. It offers environmentally responsible, power-efficient, and cost-optimized data centre hosting facilities, with the capabilities to deliver high-performance computing (HPC) services.

By working with Subzero Engineering, a leading provider of data centre containment solutions, the company was able to standardize its approach to HPC colocation; using a scalable, energy-efficient, and ultra-secure, fault-tolerant cold aisle containment (CAC) methodology to replicate its sustainability and performance capabilities across multiple sites.

CUSTOMER BACKGROUND
atNorth is a leading Nordic data centre services company offering environmentally sustainable, power-efficient, and cost-optimized data centre hosting facilities. Its Tier III, redundant design and its innovative ability to support rack densities ranging from 40kW – 100kW make it the perfect partner for organizations using high-performance computing (HPC) to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.

With operations in Stockholm, Sweden and Reykjavik, Iceland, the company’s mission is to offer more compute for a better world, leveraging innovative data centre designs, power efficiency, and intelligent clusters to support the disruptive technologies used by customers. This includes workloads that require High Performance Computing (HPC) infrastructure, such as simulations, scientific calculations, artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning, and blockchain applications.

At its Icelandic Thor DC and Mjölnir DC colocation campuses, the company continues to push the boundaries of Nordic data centres; using 100% renewable energy resources from hydropower and geothermal sources to power their facilities, which are optimized for ultra-energy efficiency, maximum reliability, and industry-leading performance.

With this approach that incorporates Direct Free Air cooling and carbon-free energy, atNorth delivers a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating below 1.2 at its Tier III Mjölnir DC. A strategy that offers customers a reduced total cost of ownership (TCO), increased operational and energy efficiency, and a secure, scalable data centre platform to protect the long-term lifecycle requirements of their infrastructure deployments.

CHALLENGES
When designing its second 80MW, Mjölnir DC data centre campus in Reykjanesbaer, Iceland, atNorth was looking for a containment partner that was able to deliver to demanding timescales.

The company required a high-quality, robust, and secure containment solution that would offer the ability to standardize their design, while delivering repeatable performance, sustainability, and efficiency capabilities across multiple sites.

Further, due to its reputation for sustainable HPC and colocation, and for building long-term customer relationships, the company was looking to establish a new supply chain partner who could work with them as the company grew.

PROPOSED SOLUTION
Working to meet the company’s requirements for speed, efficiency, and precision, Subzero Engineering quickly engaged with Jóhann Þór Jónsson, atNorth’s Director Project Management and Business Development. Rather than offer a simple proposal containing a product specification and cost, the companies’ engineers provided consultative expertise from a remote location in the USA, offering valuable insight that would help to future-proof the data centre and meet growing customer demand.

Once a relationship was established, Subzero specified its Essential Plus+ product line, offering a vendor-neutral, quick-to-deploy, and flexible containment system. Available globally, the Essential Plus+ products would provide atNorth with a standardized containment architecture, which would accommodate any customers’ HPC rack, server, or storage requirement.

“Subzero’s response time was exceptional,” said Jóhann Þór Jónsson, Director Project Management and Business Development, atNorth. “They not only specified a cold aisle containment architecture complete with security doors and top roofs, but worked with us consultatively to engineer a robust, clean, and energy-efficient system that would look visually impactful and fit with the site’s geothermal surroundings.”

RESULTS
The sleek look and feel, best-in-class materials, and energy-efficient architecture of the Essential Plus+ products met atNorth’s requirements for a customizable, robust and high-quality containment solution. Moreover, it would enable them to standardize and quickly scale across new sites, using a methodology that delivers increased security, performance, and sustainability. This is a pivotal approach, and has informed the design, construction and development of its third climate-positive data centre in Stockholm.

“Subzero Engineering has given us a standardized, repeatable, and physically secure containment system, which fits well with our own philosophy,” said Jóhann Þór Jónsson, Director Project Management and Business Development, atNorth. “They have offered us a flexible containment solution, focused on both performance and efficiency, but which is easy to customize with the changing requirements of our intensive computing customers.”

Further, the synergies between the companies were clear from the outset, both having values ingrained with pushing the boundaries of performance, sustainability, and energy efficiency. Subzero’s containment solutions would not only contribute towards atNorth’s industry-leading low PUE, but their approach would deliver exceptional value: establishing them as a long-term partner for the company’s high performance, sustainable, colocation services.

“As a business, we’re always focused on the long-term objectives of our customers, and we choose to work with companies whose values are aligned with ours,” continued Jóhann Þór Jónsson, Director Project Management and Business Development, atNorth. “Subzero Engineering remained service-minded, agile, and worked to truly understand our business: providing a consultative, value-add and intricate data centre solution that meets our demands for performance and efficiency both now, and in the future.”

To download the atNorth Case Study click here.

atNorthCase StudyData Center Containment
Defining Your Edge – Re-Thinking the Concept of Micro Data Center Designs

Defining Your Edge – Re-Thinking the Concept of Micro Data Center Designs

By Sam Prudhomme, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Subzero Engineering

For many years the industry has been in a deep discussion about the concept of edge computing. Yet the definition varies from vendor to vendor, creating confusion in the market, especially where end-users are concerned. In fact, within more traditional or conservative sectors, some customers are yet to truly understand how the edge relates to them, meaning the discussion needs to change, and fast.

According to Gartner, “the edge is the physical location where things and people connect with the networked, digital world, and by 2022, more than 50% of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside the data center or cloud.” All of this data invariably needs a home, and depending on the type of data that is secured, whether it’s business or mission-critical, the design and location of its home will vary.

Autonomous vehicles are but one example of an automated, low- latency and data-dependent application. The real-time control data required to operate the vehicle is created, processed and stored via two-way communications at a number of local and roadside levels. On a city-wide basis, the data produced by each autonomous vehicle will be processed, analyzed, stored and transmitted in real-time, in order to safely direct the vehicle and manage the traffic. Yet on a national level, the data produced by millions of AVs could be used to shape transport infrastructure policy and redefine the automotive landscape globally.

Each of these processing, analysis, and storage locations requires a different type of facility to support its demand. Right now, data centers designed to meet the needs of standard or enterprise business applications are plentiful. However, data centers designed for dynamic, real-time data delivery, provisioning, processing, and storage are in short supply.

That’s partly because of the uncertainty over which applications will demand such infrastructure and, importantly, over what sort of timeframe. However, there’s also the question of flexibility. Many of the existing micro data center solutions are unable to meet the demands of edge or, more accurately, localized, low-latency applications, which also require high levels of agility and scalability. This is due to their pre-determined or specified approach to design and infrastructure components.

Traditionally, the market has been met with small-scale, edge applications, which have been deployed in pre-populated, containerized solutions. A customer is often required to confirm to a standard shape or size and there’s no flexibility in terms of their modularity, components, or make-up. So how do we change the thinking?

A Flexible Edge

Standardization has, in many respects, been crucial to our industry. It offers a number of key benefits, including the ability to replicate systems predictably across multiple locations. But when it comes to the edge, some standardized systems aren’t built for the customer – they’re a product of vendor collaboration: One that’s also accompanied by high-costs and long lead times.

On the one hand, having a box with everything in it can undoubtedly solve some pain points, especially where integration is concerned. But what happens if the customer has its own alliances, or may not need all of the components? What happens if they run out of capacity in one site? Those original promises of scalability, or flexibility disappear, leaving the customer with just one option – to buy another container. One might consider that that rigidity, when it comes to ‘standardization’, can often be detrimental to the customer.

There is, however, the possibility that such modular, customizable, and scalable micro data center architectures can meet the end user’s requirements perfectly, allowing end-users to truly define and embrace their edge.

Is There a Simpler Way?

Today forecasting growth is a key challenge for customers. With demands increasing to support a rapidly developing digital landscape, many will have a reasonable idea of what capacity is required today. But predicting how it will grow over time is far more difficult, and this is where modularity is key.

For example, pre-pandemic, a content delivery network, with capacity located near large users groups may have found itself swamped with demand in the days of lockdown. Today, they may be considering how to scale up local data center capacity quickly and incrementally to meet customer expectations, without deploying additional infrastructure across more sites.

There is also the potential of 5G-enabled applications, so how does one define what’s truly needed to optimize and protect the infrastructure in a manufacturing environment. Should an end-user purchase a containerized micro data center because that’s what’s positioned as the ideal solution? Or, should they customize and engineer a solution that can grow incrementally with demands? Or would it be more beneficial to deploy a single room that offers a secure, high-strength, and walk-able roof that can host production equipment?

The point here is that when it comes to micro data centers, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. End-users need the ability to choose their infrastructure based on their business demands – whether they be in industrial manufacturing, automotive, telco, or colocation environments. But how can users achieve this?

Infrastructure Agnostic Architectures

At Subzero Engineering, we believe that vendor-agnostic, flexible micro data centers are the future for the industry. For years we’ve been adding value to customers, and building containment systems around their needs, without forcing their infrastructure to fit into boxes.

We believe users should have the flexibility to utilize their choice of best-in-class data center components, including the IT stack, the uninterruptible power supply (UPS), cooling architecture, racks, cabling, or fire suppression system. So by taking an infrastructure-agnostic approach, we give customers the ability to define their edge, and use resilient, standardized, and scalable infrastructure in a way that’s truly beneficial to their business.

By taking this approach, we’re also able to meet demands for speed to market, delivering a fully customized solution to site within six weeks. Furthermore, by adopting a modular architecture that includes a stick-built enclosure, and the ability to incorporate a cleanroom, and a walk-able, mezzanine roof, users can scale as demands require it, and without the need to deploy additional containerized systems.

This approach alone offers significant benefits, including a 20-30% cost-saving, compared with conventional ‘pre-integrated’, micro data center designs.

For too long now, our industry has been shaped by vendors that have forced customers to base decisions on systems which are constrained by the solutions they offer. We believe now is the time to disrupt the market, eliminate this misalignment, and enable customers to define their edge as they go.

By providing customers with the physical data center infrastructure they need, no matter their requirements, we can help them plan for tomorrow. As I said, standardization can offer many benefits, but not when it’s detrimental to the customer.

 

Click here to download a pdf version of this article.

AisleFrameCold Aisle Containmentdata centerData Center ContainmentData Center Infrastructure Managementedgeedge data centerEssential Micro Data CenterHot Aisle ContainmentInfrastructure Conveyancemicro data center
Subzero Engineering Launches ‘Essential Micro Data Center’, Allowing Users to Define Their Own Edge

Subzero Engineering Launches ‘Essential Micro Data Center’, Allowing Users to Define Their Own Edge

  • Turnkey solution is building and infrastructure agnostic, providing 20%-30% cost-savings compared to other solutions in the market.
  • Standardized solution meets demanding timescales, shipping within as little as 36 hours, while fully customized micro data centers can be delivered, installed and operational in 4-6 weeks.
  • Provides flexible micro data center system for colocation, 5G, retail, enterprise and industrial applications.

 

October 13, 2021Subzero Engineering, a leading provider of data center containment solutions, has today introduced its Essential Micro Data Center, the world’s first modular, vendor agnostic and truly flexible modular micro data center architecture. Available for order in the United States of America, United Kingdom and Europe, the Essential Micro Data Center meets customer demands for a standardized, premium quality, cost-competitive and quick-to-install edge infrastructure system, that provides a reduced total cost of ownership of between 20%-30%.

Based on its Essential Series and AisleFrame product lines, the Essential Micro Data Center is a small-footprint, on-premises data center, engineered for distributed and remote infrastructure environments. Its modular architecture includes white-glove installation and support, power, cooling, infrastructure conveyance and containment. All of which are housed within a pre-fabricated, factory-assembled, modular room, and shipped flat-packed to site.

With increased requirements for real-time data processing, low latency, greater security and automation, the Essential Micro Data Center ensures predictability and performance for distributed applications. Furthermore, its customizable, modular design offers a fast, flexible and easy-to-build micro data center system, perfectly suited for colocation, 5G, retail, enterprise and industrial environments.

 

Strength, security, customization

The Essential Micro Data Center is comprised of two-parts including a physically secure, modular room containing critical power and cooling infrastructure, and Subzero’s high-strength AisleFrame. Using this approach, the Essential Micro Data Center can support a variety of load requirements and includes built-in, customizable containment, integrated with self-supporting ceiling modules and insert panels available in ABS, acrylic, polycarbonate, aluminum or glass.

The pre-fabricated system can accommodate all ladder racking, busway, fiber trays and infrastructure necessary for micro data center applications, and offers support for hot or cold aisle applications, regardless of cooling methodology. For example, the high-strength ceiling can support a range of cooling systems, including overhead Computer Room Air Conditioning (CRAC) units. This feature offers complete customization for users who can deploy their infrastructure in aisle, row or rack configurations.

Further, its flexible, vendor-agnostic design provides users with the ability to custom-specify their own choice of power and cooling infrastructure. This approach helps overcome the challenge of having to use inflexible, pre-specified power and cooling systems in a containerized system, while retaining the ability to standardize, repeat and scale quickly, as business requirements change.

“The Essential Micro Data Center’s flexible design makes it a perfect fit for customers searching for an alternative to the obstinate and expensive, pre-integrated solutions currently available,” said Sam Prudhomme, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Subzero Engineering. “Our vendor-agnostic approach to component specification, combined with rapid speed of and installation and lower TCO, ensures customers can truly define and scale the edge on their own terms.”

The Subzero Engineering Essential Micro Data Center joins its recently launched Essentials Series, demonstrating the company’s commitment to delivering customer-focused, efficient and precision-engineered digital infrastructure solutions.

To learn more, click here.

AisleFrameCold Aisle ContainmentData Center ContainmentData Center Infrastructure Managementedgeedge data centerEssential Micro Data CenterHot Aisle ContainmentInfrastructure Conveyancemicro data center
Containment at the Edge – Making the Edge Efficient, Scalable, and Sustainable

Containment at the Edge – Making the Edge Efficient, Scalable, and Sustainable

Each day, technology touches nearly every aspect of our lives in one way or the other. For example, how many times a day do each of us access one or more apps on our smart phone? This trend of needing, creating, transferring, and accessing data in fractions of a second isn’t going away either. According to Gartner Research, by 2020, internet capable devices worldwide reached over 20 billion, and this number is expected to double by 2025. It is also estimated that approximately 463 exabytes of data (1 exabyte is equivalent to 1 billion gigabytes) will be generated each day by people as of 2025, that’s the equivalent of 212,765,957 DVDs per day!1 Along with this increase comes the need to have this data as fast as possible, with minimum delay or latency, something most of today’s data centers are not capable of.

The increase in data and the need for high-speed data transfers has inspired the recent trend known as edge computing. What exactly is the edge? What is an edge data center? How are edge data centers evolving and how can facility and data center managers be ready without being left behind? What about the challenge of making a resilient, modular, and scalable edge data center while maintaining high efficiency and reliability? This paper will answer these and many more questions about the edge in the following topics:

  • What is an Edge Data Center
  • The Evolution of Edge Computing
  • How Organizations are Responding to Edge Data Centers
  • Solving the Challenge of Modular and Scalable Edge Infrastructures
  • Reliability and Efficiency Needed at the Edge
  • Containment’s Critical Role in Edge Deployments
  • Bridging the Gap to the Edge, Now and Future

Read the full white paper here.

ContainmentData Center Containmentdata center efficiencyedgeedge computingedge data centerefficientinfrastructuremicro data centerscalablesustainable
5 Steps to Improving Data Center Performance & Energy Efficiency

5 Steps to Improving Data Center Performance & Energy Efficiency

By Sam Prudhomme, Vice President of Sales & Marketing

Recently, I was interviewed by a Computer Weekly journalist, Fleur Doidge, who was writing an article focusing on the quick wins when it comes to improving systems performance in the data center. Inspired by our discussion, I’ve come up with Subzero’s top 5 ways to boost data center utilization.

The data center industry, quite rightly, has an ongoing, major focus on how it can improve both the performance and energy efficiency of its facilities. That’s partly down to the perception that our industry are major consumers of energy and contribute a high volume of carbon emissions each year.

According to an article published in Science Magazine, data centers account for around 1% of global energy use. It’s clear that we need to improve our environmental performance and to ensure we never forget we’re part of the sustainability solution, but we should also remember that data center performance and energy efficiency improvements make great business sense.

While there are many, many issues to consider as part of a comprehensive, long-term strategy to both improve data center performance as well as to achieve carbon neutral status, this article focuses on the ‘low hanging fruit’ – relatively simple actions, which will have an immediate positive impact on your facility, and with an ROI measured in months rather than years.

Step 1 – As Easy as (free) CFD

Those of you who know Subzero Engineering well will not be surprised that Step 1 involves a Environmental Impact Evaluation (CFD) of your data center. We believe it all starts with the data and offer this service for free. It is a simple, efficient, and super-fast way of discovering just how your data center is performing right now – where the power is, where the heat is, and isn’t, hence where the cold air does or doesn’t need to be.

Step 2 – Using the Data

Once the Environmental Impact Evaluation (CFD) has been carried out, you’ll be armed with a large quantity of data about how your data center is performing. It’s highly likely that you’ll be presented with some really quick wins. For example, you’ll discover where the hotspots (points of efficiency leakage) are; and part of the solution may be something as simple as installing any necessary blanking panels.

Then again, the CFD data may highlight that Row 5 in Rack 6 is running 15 degrees hotter than anywhere else in the data center. You’ll be able to decide whether you need to move this stack to a better location where more cooling is available, or maybe you just need to open up the grate to optimize or increase the airflow.

Step 3 – The 3 ms: Measuring, monitoring & Modulation

A data center is a live environment. So, although the CFD analysis can identify and help to resolve what we might call any ‘permanent’ power and cooling issues, it’s essential that you monitor and measure the performance of the power and cooling plant in real-time. This is because data center variables such as the IT load and operating temperatures are in constant flux. With the right system you are able to modulate the airflow accordingly. For example, if the cooling needs to react to the load inside each rack and cabinet, as well as respond to the impact of, say, an extremely hot outside temperature.

Rather than blast a load of cold air into the data center and ‘hope’ that it keeps the IT hardware within operating tolerances, with the right monitoring solution, you can be confident that you can modulate the cold air as required right down to the rack level. This ensures that the cooling usage is as effective and energy efficient as possible.

Step 4 – Contain Your Excitement

How would you like to reduce your PUE by 0.4? Or to achieve a 29% reduction in data center energy consumption? Well, these are the average savings we achieve for our customers when they deploy one of our containment solutions.

The initial Environmental Impact Evaluation (CFD) we carry out also proves how this can be achieved – it compares and contrasts hot vs cold aisle containment and containment vs no containment. Furthermore, a containment solution ensures that Steps 1-3 really do achieve the maximum performance and energy efficiency improvements within the data center.

Without containment, you’ll still have hotspots – separating hot and cold air will be hit and miss and far from being optimized.

With containment, you can bring down the power consumption to cooling ratio close to a 1:1 match in KW consumed – that’s how the energy consumption/utility bill reduction is achieved.

As for the PUE reduction? Well, that’s achieved by smarter, more efficient use of an optimized combination of chilled water and the air conditioning fans. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that containment can reduce fan energy consumption by up to 25% and deliver 20% savings at the cold water chiller.1

One final containment benefit – we supplied a containment solution to a colo customer and by separating the hot and cold air in their facility, we helped them to not only eliminate hotspots, but also to increase rack density by an average of 14%.

Step 5 – Turn the Lights out

This breadth of knowledge brings me to my final data center performance and energy efficiency improvement: turn out the lights. By that, I actually mean remove anything incandescent and go with an LED retrofit kit within your existing tray system. And then automate the lighting system.

It may be a while before a true lights out data center becomes the norm, if ever, but that’s no excuse not to ensure that your lighting system is as energy efficient as possible. By using LEDs and only using the lights when needed you’ll improve your energy efficiency as well as your bank balance.

While Subzero Engineering’s major focus is data center consultancy, using CFD analysis and containment solutions, to help drive performance and efficiency improvements we can also help owners/operators with their critical power infrastructure, DCIM and other solutions as required.

Download the 5 Steps to Improving Data Center Performance & Energy Efficiency pdf here.

 

References

1Recalibrating global data center energy-use estimates – Science Magazine 2018

CFDContainmentdata centerdata center energy consumptiondata center performanceEnergy EfficiencyEnvironmental Impact EvaluationPUErack densitysustainability
Data Center Sustainability – Why it’s all about the data

Data Center Sustainability – Why it’s all about the data

Andy Connor – Channel Director, EMEA, Subzero Engineering

In 2020, the Uptime Institute’s, Andy Lawrence stated, “The average power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio for a data center is 1.58, only marginally better than 7 years ago.”

This revelation may come as a welcome shock, and while it might be overstating the situation to characterise data center energy usage as the Internets ‘dirty secret’, there’s little doubt that the reality of the sectors carbon impact has been masked by the many headlines which focus solely on its sustainability successes.

Colt Data Centre Services, for example, recently announced that its operations across Europe are now fully powered by 100% renewable energy, while many members of the U.S. hyperscale community are publicly revealing their latest renewable energy projects and initiatives. Carbon offsetting is another idea quickly embraced by end-users, vendors and operators of all shapes and sizes, and while all of these activities, in part, contribute to data center sustainability improvements, they do not directly address the issue of data center power consumption.

Data Center Power Usage
Today there are many estimates as to the amount of power that data centers across the globe consume on an annual basis. Energy Innovation estimates that, in 2018, data centers likely consumed 205 terrawatt-hours (TWh), which equates to 1% of total global electricity. However, the authors of a paper published in ‘Global Energy Interconnection’ in June 2020 state that ‘data centers will become the world’s largest users of energy consumption, with the ratio rising from 3% in 2017 to 4.5% in 2025’.

The data differs again in the January 2020 Uptime Institute Journal, which reports EU data center energy consumption figures of 130 TWh in 2017, alongside Greenpeace’s 2018 Chinese data center figure of 160 TWh, which makes for a combined total of 290 TWh for China and Europe alone!

The fact is that as data center capacity increases, so will energy usage. And while we may not agree on the exact numbers, few would argue about the direction of travel. So what can we do to change the trajectory, and how can we begin to pinpoint consistency within sustainable strategies?

A Change In Demand
Demands for digital transformation are a key factor behind data center energy consumption, but rather than overload you with a tsunami of data, I would urge you to take a short time out to consider just how essential information technology has become to almost every factor of everyday life.

Take a typical workday, how do you communicate with colleagues, what does your role entail? Then think about your plans for the weekend (lockdown not withstanding), have you thought about the films you’ll watch, the apps you might use, or your personal connection to a data center?

Now try and imagine a future that also includes artificial intelligence (AI), augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR), what impacts will this digital consumption have on the data center industry, and what does it mean for sustainability?

Those are big questions, many of which people outside the sector won’t have considered, but the answer may lie within a recent data center industry initiative to show us the way forward. Recently 25 companies and 17 associations across Europe joined together to sign the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact, with the objective of making data centers climate neutral by 2030.

There’s clearly a growing momentum behind sustainability, but the industry needs to move beyond the environmental easy wins of the past few years and to start to address the factors that really address efficiency and PUE ratings – those which have hardly changed in seven years.

There’s also the question of is PUE truly enough to measure our carbon impact, so with this in mind, where can we begin?

Beginning With The Data
Back in 2005, Subzero Engineering started life as a Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) consultancy. At the time, a large percentage of the industry were using raised floors and experiencing issues with leakages. Yet, with a simple to use and accurate software solution we were able to show customers how they could analyse their data center infrastructure and take steps to both improve efficiency and reduce their environmental impact.

Fast-forward sixteen years and that approach has stayed with us. Today we’re an engineering-led solutions provider that helps world-leading businesses achieve a lower carbon footprint, greater efficiency, reduced operating costs and exceptional performance – and it all starts with the data.

For example, by showing customers the hot and cold air influences within their data center and helping them to analyse, optimise and retrofit their facilities, we believe we can help them find the perfect balance between sustainability and performance.

The proof is in the outcomes and today we keep a live record of the annual energy savings we’ve achieved for our customers. To-date they include:

  • Total savings: $332M
  • Total kW savings: 356kW
  • Total kWh savings: 3BN kWh
  • H2O savings (gallons): 1.5BN
  • CO2 reductions (tons): +3M

However, while these data points show some of the gains that can be made by focusing on sustainability, two questions remain; how do organizations become more energy conscious, and what are the next steps they can take to become more sustainable?

Defining Next Steps
At Subzero Engineering we believe that beginning with a data-driven CFD report is the first step, and offers data center operators insight into how to drive efficiencies across all areas of their facility. This is not limited to airflow; it includes the Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), Computer Room Air Conditioners (CRAC), racks, IT and cooling fan speeds.

A CFD analysis also shows them how they can achieve a higher rack density, more computing power and help increase the operating temperature to gain both a higher performing and more streamlined, efficient data center.

This information is invaluable, offering both a starting point and a medium for creating a strategy that balances performance and efficiency. It also offers a means of truly understanding what kind of return on investment (ROI) they can expect from improving sustainability, especially in terms of reductions in energy and water usage, and lower carbon emissions.

Looking Forward
Today energy efficiency and sustainability objectives have become key drivers for owners and operators. Subzero has always been a sustainability-engineering organization; it just so happens that in recent years ‘sustainability’ has become a key talking point for the industry.

Coming back to the data, a paper authored by Anders S.G. Andrae once presented three possible scenarios for data center electricity usage (TWh) by 2030. The best-case figure is 1,137; the expected figure is 2,967; and the worst case is 7,933. As an industry we cannot let the latter become a reality.

In the absence of the grown-up sustainability conversation that needs to happen soon, where more businesses and consumers become fully aware of the environmental consequences of their digital footprint, I believe more and more pressure will force our industry to perform better.

Sustainability, however, begins with data-driven action, and a free CFD analysis is a perfect place to start.

To learn more about modernizing or driving data center sustainability with the help of Subzero Engineering, connect with a local technical expert here.

This blog was first published on Intelligent CIO Europe in March 2021. To read the original online, click here.

CFDComputational Fluid DynamicsContainmentdata centerdata center power usageEnergy EfficiencyPUE