When it comes to cooling, most people think about air conditioning in houses, cars, office buildings etc.. But one of the great challenges less known is to efficiently cool down the multitude of servers in a data center.
So what is a data center? A data center is a space which houses IT equipment where data can be stored and managed. It might not sound important to you but if you give it a little thought you will realise that we all generate data on a daily basis which is getting stored somewhere. This article you are reading on this very website too is supported by servers. Your messages on facebook, you’re important work emails etc. all need to get stored. At a more macro level, there are companies and institutions that generate and need to store key information. Data centers could be thought of as the backbone to our growing digital word. Today even our ‘smart appliances’ that from the ‘Internet of Things’ are generating data which needs to be stored. The trend in technology and society has increased the demand for data storage. It has been estimated that By 2017, the number of data centers will reach 8.6 million. Overall, the space occupied by these data centres will be increased, growing from 1.58 billion square feet in 2013 to 1.94 billion in 2018.
Now what does a data center have to do with cooling? Data centers contain multiple racks of servers that generate heat as they work. Picture this – you have hundreds of CPU’s together in a room all operating 24/7. The servers in a data center are even more powerful and dense than the desktop CPU’s. The heat generated can be enough to stop them from working. Therefore cooling is required in such a room.
The difference here and regular room cooling is that heat is constantly being generated from specific points in the room. Cooling down the whole room uniformly as in regular air conditioning becomes inefficient. Therefore there are unique methods being adopted which involve directing the coolant in a more efficient way to the source of the heat which is the server. A popular method is Aisle containment, wherein the input cold air and return hot air and separated and not allowed to mix. This method has reduced data center efficiency largely. However, methods like this only change the flow pattern of the coolant or the coolant itself. The source of cooling still lies majorly in the vapour compression cycle which in itself is heavily dependant on electricity.
Even with the aisle containment method implemented, around 38% of a data center’s electricity costs are due to cooling. This is a huge number considering that data centers are composed of IT equipment that constantly consume electricity.
This has led to the demand for more energy efficient cooling technologies. The expected growth for ‘advanced cooling solutions’ over 20% for the years 2015 – 2019. Developing adsorption cooling systems, we have realised its strong potential in reducing the operating costs of a data center and also being a clean alternative at the same time. We have estimated that a data center of 5000 sq ft, can save upto $1M per year in operating costs with the adoption of this technology.
It is quite clear that a change in cooling is required. The current costs, rate of environmental pollution and energy resources all point to this direction. Let’s take a moment to absorb this and look forward to a near future where our systems adsorb the heat away.