Global Trends Drive the Need to Rethink Data Center Cooling for Long-term Cost Savings

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A number of trends are converging in the industry resulting in an opportunity to adopt new data center cooling strategies that deliver lower up-front costs for cooling systems as well as significant operational savings over the lifetime of the data center.

data center cooling

Trends Driving Changes in Data Center Cooling

The first trend has its roots in a recommendation the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) made years ago: that companies should raise the operating temperature of their data centers to 80°F (27°C) or more in some cases. Old habits die hard, but more and more companies are getting the message that it’s safe to raise data center operating temperatures. Doing so saves money on cooling costs, which account for about 40% of data center power usage.

Another trend is that data centers are getting both larger and smaller. Internet giants, cloud service providers and other large companies continue to build massive centralized data centers to keep up with demand coming from the rapid growth in connected devices, driven in large part by Internet of Things technology. At the same time, companies of all stripes are building small edge data centers, again driven by IoT applications and digital transformation efforts that require localized computing power.

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Finally, there’s the Kigali Amendment, an agreement negotiated in 2016 by some 170 countries to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigerators and air conditioning systems. The agreement went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019, and has so far been ratified by 81 parties (countries and regional organizations, including the European Union). It promotes the development and use of alternative forms of refrigerants in cooling systems, including those used in data centers.

Rethinking Data Center Cooling

With these trends in mind, and with recent advances in data center cooling technology, it’s now possible to build data center cooling systems that reduce both up front capital costs (CapEx) and ongoing operational expenses (OpEx). But doing so requires taking a holistic approach to cooling design.

For example, adhering to ASHRAE guidelines on data center temperatures will dramatically raise the circumstances under which a data center can take advantage of free cooling (also known as economizer mode). As mentioned in a previous data center cooling post, depending on the class of data center, between 75% and 97% of North America can use free cooling nearly all the time while in Europe the figure is 99% for most data centers.

Free cooling systems save around 30% on OpEx costs. What’s more, a design that allows for free cooling can result in huge savings on CapEx. This is due to the fact the required modular free cooling modules/devices will be equipped with smaller compressors.

Another option is represented by adiabatic cooling systems, which use water to cool data centers – helping to reduce reliance on HFCs. Historically, because they rely on water, adiabatic systems were not always an option for all data centers – they were a fit only where water was readily available and not too costly.

But this is changing. Newer adiabatic technologic systems, and in particular the latest chillers, can operate in adiabatic mode when water is available, and properly without it when water isn’t available while also avoiding downtime. That means companies don’t have to decide upfront between adiabatic and non-adiabatic cooling; the same system supports both, in all conditions.

Data Center Cooling Solutions from the Edge to the Cloud

Schneider Electric offers a full set of cooling solutions. In particular, for edge data centers, a product portfolio is available based on a complete range of close coupled, rack-based and room cooling systems.

For cloud and service providers, the latest technologies are available on both air economizers and adiabatic chillers which allow designers to minimize capital expenses and optimize operative expense savings. In particular adiabatic chillers, available without or with embedded free-cooling system, are designed to deploy at extremely high energy efficiency levels. These solutions leverage the latest data center design temperatures and water availability as a saving booster.

The key is to think holistically and determine whether a modestly higher up-front CapEx expense will deliver long-term OpEx savings that make for a lower overall total cost of ownership. To get started, explore the business and environmental advantages of Schneider’s Uniflair cooling solution.

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