Keeping Cool in Any Climate

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

Keep Your Cool in the Data Center

The more tightly you pack heat-generating equipment, the more energy you consume trying to cool the air in and around it. An efficient cooling system is a top priority.

The prevailing theme of virtualization and cloud computing is that data environments can be logically separated from underlying infrastructure, making it irelevent whether data is housed or processed in the next room or on the other side of the world.

Of course, when it comes to actually running the data center that will house all these dynamic, shifting resources, location is proving to be a major consideration indeed. Energy costs being what they are, enterprises are starting to think way outside the box when it comes to building new facilities.

Since data centers and data equipment run so hot, the natural inclination is to choose cold locations with ample "free cooling" that limits the need for electricity-generated HVAC equipment. This fact is not lost on government authorities and industry leaders in colder climates, some of whom have geared their industrial and economic policies toward building more data facilities.

Iceland, quite naturally, is one of the leaders of this movement. The country's national power company, Landsvirkjun, has set a goal of providing one percent of Europe's data center power needs by 2020, a feat that would consume about 10 percent of the company's current generation, or about 1.5 TWh. The plan calls for ample use of free cooling and renewable energy generation as well as the country's dual optical data transmission infrastructure that links to both Europe and North America.

Norway is also hoping to utilize its natural resources in a bid to capture more of the data market. The Green Mountain Data Center in Stavanger is perfectly situated to take advantage of glacier runoff that seeps down the country's famous fjords. By the time it hits the facility, the water is a cool 8 degrees C, which helps to keep the center carbon-free and contributes to a nearly 30 percent reduction in operating costs.

Cool climates do not have a lock on the data center industry, however. Somewhat incongruously, the southwest United States is drawing a fair share of the action. eBay, for example, runs a massive facility on the outskirts of Phoenix capable of withstanding temperatures as high as 155 degrees F. Through containerized design and innovative system layouts, the center can maintain operational efficiencies at much higher temperatures than normal, and in fact uses some of the region's naturally hot water - as hot as 86 degrees F - as coolant.

Lower latitudes also have something that those closer to the poles don't: more sunlight. As solar power becomes more efficient and cheaper to implement, the sun becomes more of a friend than an enemy to sustainable data operations. Again, eBay is on top of this trend with a new bank of solar panels recently added to its Topaz Data Center in South Jordan, Utah. The facility, which was recently awarded LEED Gold status by the U.S. Green Building Council, features 72,000 square feet of solar panels capable of generating close to 1 million kWh.

Geography, then, will continue to play a vital role in data environments, if only because it no longer matters to those who are actually using data services. Freed from the shackles of traditional data/infrastructure requirements, IT has an unprecedented opportunity to remake itself according to what makes the most operational sense, even if it takes you halfway around the world.

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