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Data center cooling and efficiency: thinking outside the box

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Challenged by overwhelming demands for real-time data, enhanced agility, and virtually unlimited scalability, CIOs are facing unprecedented complexity in the data center. As leaders prepare for the ubiquity of cloud, IoT, and big data, they must still keep energy efficiency under control. Unfortunately, there’s no single way to prepare for the vast amount of power wasted on a daily basis. Sometimes, it’s necessary for CIOs to think outside the box.

Ranging from small- to mega-sized infrastructures, each and every data center design must be supported by a comprehensive energy efficiency roadmap. In addition to accounting for variables such as original data center design, age, and location, another prime focus area is the cooling environment. Typically a mix and match of high-density cabinets, data centers produce an unprecedented amount of heat. And as infrastructures expand to accommodate emerging data sources and new user requirements, this heat index only rises.

CenturyLink LO1 data center London racks

CenturyLink LO1 data center in London

Source: CenturyLink

Daunted by the threat of damage from overheated equipment or abnormally high energy bills, organizations should strive to attain median temperatures between 77 and 79 degrees. With experts pegging cooling systems as a primary drain on electricity supply, companies must begin a targeted approach to data center energy efficiency. Current reports indicate global IT infrastructures account for using about three percent of the entire world’s electricity supply, which equates to two percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

It is projected energy consumed by these global IT resources will triple over the next decade – yet most of this use is wasted. In fact, McKinsey and Company estimates data centers only leveraged 12 percent of all electricity running servers to perform actual computations.

More often than not, IT managers are responsible for multiple data centers spread across the globe. No two are the same in terms of configuration, power, or speed/efficiency. Given these disparities, cooling infrastructures should match the unique environment for maximum efficiency. As a starting point, businesses should conduct environmental assessments to identify weak spots, areas of improvement, and infrastructure functionality. Many consider the help of a third party invaluable at this stage for exhaustive discovery and full asset documentation, application interdependencies and workloads. Based on these assessments, here are some ways colocation providers can maximize cooling resources:


This cooling solution removes heat from one element by moving it to another element. The contained offering cools water used in heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems and typically runs 24 x 7. After absorbing heat from computers, the water is cycled via an external cooling tower, thus allowing heat to dissipate. A “Chiller-in-a-Box” technique is able to produce efficiencies of less than .12 kW per ton annualized. When coupled with high-efficiency computer room air handlers (CRAH), it’s possible to drive a mechanical power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.08.

Oasis Indirect Evaporative Cooling (IEC)

This alternative makes use of evaporation to reject heat without adding moisture. Hot air leaving servers is kept separate from cool air supplied to the server. Leveraged successfully by top tech leaders, these systems maximize free cooling without introducing outside air – thus eliminating associated contaminants. Some configurations are even capable of PUEs as low as 1.15.

Integrated Waterside Economization

This popular option is effective in data centers making use of water or air-cooled chilled water plants. Stressing the evaporative capacity of a cooling tower, the system uses low-temperature water. Particularly adept at cooling redundancy, cold water can be delivered even when the chiller is offline. If implemented correctly, these systems have the potential to dramatically lower PUE for significant economization and savings.

Danfoss Turbocor WT

This centrifugal compressor is a variable, high-speed system creating premium energy efficiency to water, evaporative and air-cooled chillers and HVAC systems. These oil-free solutions can offer cooling capacity between 200 – 700 kW/60-200 TR with R134a. Magnetic bearings and sensors permit controlled frictionless shaft rotation on a levitated magnetic cushion – meaning no metal-to-metal contact.

Further enhancing its power is implementation of a Danfoss Turbocor with integrated free cooling coils. The configuration maximizes free cooling without adding cooling towers by making use of low ambient temperatures. With very low maintenance, the system is also oil free.

No Single Approach

There’s no panacea to data center cooling and efficiency. Disparate environments require custom strategies to maximize the parameters of infrastructure, environment, and equipment age. If designed effectively, these strategies go a long way toward achieving requirements for cost savings, accelerated efficiencies, and reduced environmental footprint.

The environment needs our help. It’s time to throw away your energy efficiency playbook and explore the market’s full range of options. Do your homework, stay cool and discover what’s right for your organization. It could be the most important IT decision you’ll ever make.

William Gast is a director of Data Center Services at CenturyLink.

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