Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

Although energy consumption remains a critical element in creating a sustainable world, the data center of the future will be built with much more than just energy in mind. The modern data center is the beating heart of the global economic system and demand data usage is at an all time high. With distributed computing increasing year by year, the demand for data consumption booming, and digital transformation impacting all aspects of modern life, the ways in which new data centers are designed and built are evolving, among other things. , due to the growing awareness of the impact of digital infrastructure and climate change on our communities. Thus, we are building data centers that go beyond location and footprint, and seeing fundamental changes in the way materials themselves are sourced, designed, used, and dismantled. In turn, we’re creating a kind of whole new data center, optimized for new workloads and designed with sustainability, scalability, and democratization in mind. Fortunately, the data center industry has demonstrated over the last few years years its determination to improve the social and environmental impact of its operations. Operators have taken steps to improve energy efficiency with the installation of innovative refrigeration processes, increased attention to preserving natural resources, progress toward better control of their emissions, and obtaining energy from renewable sources, with some operators already running on 100% green electricity. However, as the clamor to reduce emissions within our supply chains grows and future government regulation on scope 3 emissions is strongly anticipated, we must look beyond the mere question of energy to consider how Data center operators must innovate to ensure that each new facility is designed for a decarbonized and interconnected future from the ground up.

Sustainable design

The construction of any new facility must start by meeting criteria set by a green certification body such as BREEAM to ensure it is built fit for a net zero carbon future and offers the lowest PUE (Energy Usage Effectiveness) possible. . Getting certified is difficult, but it ensures that design standards are future-proof and any additional efficiencies that may be applied are easily identified. Certification programs include a holistic view of the project, from site selection to day-to-day operations, long after construction is complete. Modern construction techniques now allow operators to reuse existing materials and recyclable content, such as steel or aggregates from the original building foundations, to reduce construction waste. It is also essential to choose sustainably sourced materials for all construction, as well as purchase them from local suppliers to reduce the company’s carbon footprint. Reverse logistics, which involves charging delivery vehicles for round trips, can also be used effectively to facilitate recycling of packaging materials and reduce vehicle emissions. Focusing the design not only on energy efficiency, but also on the level of construction materials used and the management of natural resources, will guarantee the construction of facilities that take the environment in general into account. Reduce consumption of water is critical to creating the new breed of data center. Closed-loop systems have gone a long way toward reducing the amount of fresh water consumed in data centers by allowing water to be continuously treated and recirculated for cooling. Mapping temperatures at locations and working with local weather patterns can help operators monitor their systems more carefully to reduce evaporative cooling as much as possible, as well as collect rainwater from the facility’s expansive roof top of data to treat it and use it for other purposes. There is no longer a reason modern data centers need to be continuously supplied with water in the volumes they once did, which is even more important to consider in drought-stricken locations and as water scarcity becomes an issue. growing global problem. Temperature control is another crucial aspect, as data centers are now much more likely to stay around 26 degrees. Air management within data rooms is an art and an essential element in maintaining a manageable PUE. Hot and cold aisle containment allows heat to be channeled and controlled within the data center much more effectively, and the denser the racks, the more efficient the cooling within the rack is compared to cooling the space around it. each server.

The rise of data center activism

Faced with a dearth of space for data, especially in urban centers where the digital demand of a growing population is enormous, a movement is beginning to form. The governments of Ireland, Singapore and the Netherlands are among those that have recently called for or imposed moratoriums on the construction of new data centers or limits on their energy consumption, to account for and respond to the impact that continued development is having. in local communities.

Designing for decarbonization: a new class of data center

Of course, as humanity’s reliance on instant digital products and services that facilitate everything from online shopping and social media to health appointments and hybrid work grows, so too will the need for physical infrastructures that enable this huge amount of data transfer. However, while restrictions on building new data centers on parkland are an example of opposition to “big tech”, data center operators should remember that existing brownfields are ripe for redevelopment. by operators with the experience and ability to ensure responsible site management, professional disposal of old assets and equipment, and proper control of environmental contamination. Using this approach, data center development can lay the foundation for a net positive impact by remedying existing problems while creating new jobs. Retrofitting existing sites is also beneficial to communities, in light of of the growing demand for edge computing services to support technologies with low latency requirements, such as industrial IoT devices and autonomous vehicles. These data centers are often much smaller, located on the outskirts of cities, and offer the fast and affordable services that the modern city demands, without unintentionally impacting the local community. They can also be combined with other services the operator already provides, such as Asset Lifecycle Management (ALM) in existing centers, offering a way to fill redundant space with a complementary and much-needed service. Of course, with the importance of data sovereignty there will always be a need for such city center facilities, but operators can take the initiative now to reduce the impact in congested locations while achieving maximum utilization. of the space you own.

Take the customer with you

Operators can, of course, design and build the most efficient data center, but if customers install old and inefficient servers, it impacts the overall efficiency of the facility. Fortunately, many customers are now much more informed about sustainability and have their own environmental goals, giving operators the opportunity to work collaboratively with them to ensure they use the most efficient servers and additional equipment possible. This can help the customer limit the amount of energy used and keep costs manageable, while the operator can better measure performance metrics to establish whether the overall data center is performing according to design intent and whether any equipment requires an engineering visit. For operators with an ALM offering, customers can often find great cost-based benefits that encourage them to recycle old equipment, as greener substitutes often have much lower running costs due to improved of efficiency and financed in part by the resale of old technologies. So this new breed of data center will do its best when regularly maintained with the newest and most efficient equipment. There will always be improvements as technology advances and data centers become fully sustainable and self-sufficient, but the roadmap is now firmly established and taking shape. The data center of the future will be carbon neutral, powered entirely by all kinds of natural energy sources, including wind, solar, and tidal, possibly relying solely on battery storage, rather than continuing depending on the diesel. Self-diagnostic data rooms will predict maintenance issues and warn when equipment is about to expire, alleviating the need for preventative maintenance engineering. Customers will be hired based on their actual loads, and with such advanced and modern equipment, the Operators will be able to accurately predict and project power load needs, allowing data rooms to be designed based on actual needs, rather than cluttering them with large amounts of unused power. The average life cycle of equipment will also align with the average length of customer contracts, as design standards improve, aligning commercial conditions with the circular economy. Ultimately, data centers will bring much more value to their local communities, for example, by recovering heat sources to improve the resilience of the local grid or even reduce local electricity costs. Today, the latent heat generated can be channeled to schools, hospitals, libraries, leisure facilities and even vertical farms, to ensure this valuable resource is not wasted. Waste heat is already used intensively in Sweden’s district heating networks, suggesting that the data center of the future is not as far away as we thought.Author: Chris Pennington, Director of Energy and Sustainability at Iron Mountain Data Centers

By Alvaro Rivers

Award-winning student. Incurable social media fanatic. Music scholar. Beer maven. Writer.