Advances in cooling technology making data centres more power-efficient. Is it about Mother Earth, or is it about the money?

Why green data centres are cool
For a green data centre, a big part of saving the environment is knowing how to fight it.

Expensive hardware likes to stay cool and comfortable, and wants to breathe easily. But finding the most efficient ways to keep air flowing inside a data centre poses quite the engineering challenge. Those who master it might get the jump on their competition.  And earn the right to call themselves the greenest.

Bell Canada Enterprises Inc. and rival Telus Corp. both operate a number of data centres across Canada, and they’re rapidly becoming greener, the two companies say. “We are building one in the national capital region, which is going to be very, very, very energy efficient and probably one of the more energy efficient data centres in North America,” says James Beer, director of data centre strategy and operations at Bell [TSX, NYSE: BCE].
Telus [TSX: T, T.A; NYSE: TU] is doing the same, Peter Hegarty, director of technology strategy at the company, said in an e-mail interview. “Telus is building two new very efficient Uptime Tier 3 and LEED Gold certified data centers with leading edge guaranteed PUE [Power Usage Effectiveness] of 1.15.”
Hegart says Telus is also upgrading their older data centres with smarter cooling systems. “In existing centres, TELUS started focusing on cooling systems,” Hegarty says. “Inefficient cooling systems can represent 50 per cent of power consumption in data centres.”
Regulating temperature and airflow in a date centre is a multi-faceted, complicated process, says Beer. Constant monitoring and adjustment is required. “It’s really about ensuring that you have the maximum separation of hot air and cold air from the data centres. We do things like we make sure that there’s hot aisle and cold aisle enforcement in the data centres.
“We make sure that we’re delivering cold air to the areas of the room that need it and not to those that don’t.  We do things like we put blanking panels in cabinets to make sure that air is moving…[as] efficiently as possible, so that it’s moving horizontally across the IT equipment.”
And then there’s the question of how much control to exert over that air.
“There has been a large focus on the mechanical systems deploying free air systems,” said Roman Kowalczyszyn, data centre practice lead at Canem, another Canadian green data centre operator, in an e-mail.  “These free air systems use the outdoor air as a heat sink to extract heat from the hardware, displacing ‘powered mechanical’ systems such as compressors to do the same.”
Kowalczyszyn says Canem uses technology developed by KyotoCooling International BV, a company based in the Netherlands, which “very effectively uses outdoor air as a heat sink.”
“A KyotoCooling system, maximizing free air cooling techniques, can vastly outperform the conventional system.”
Some of these cooling technologies are so cutting-edge that data centre operators can be a little tight-lipped about what exactly is going on under their roofs. Some guard their intellectual property with particular zeal.
“There’s absolutely IP implications,” says Beer. “The stuff that people are doing with the IT systems, with the servers, with the storage, with applications, from an energy perspective and green perspective, isn’t a secret per se.  I think the innovations that people are making in cooling of data centres , in using pre-cooling technologies and using…high-efficiency electrical systems—that stuff is a little more guarded. And, yes, that’s why engineering blueprints and single-line diagrams are only reviewed by customers under a non-disclosure agreement.”
At Telus, says Hergarty, “we do not disclose engineering details. However, we do work with our customers and partners in evolving TELUS standards and technology transformation.”
While few would criticize a data centre for using less power, giving data centres the “green” stamp of approval does raise a question about the intentions behind their construction. Are they actually built out of concern for Mother Earth? Or are they just cheaper to operate?
“It’s absolutely both of those,” says Beer. “I think in some respects the green angle is a byproduct of the quest for ever-more efficient and cost-effective IT environments.”
“Cloud is about kind of sweating your assets, right? So, that’s exactly what this is about: it’s about multi-tenancy, it’s about doing more with less and, yes, a byproduct of that is that it’s more energy-efficient as well.”
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