Data centers are power hogs. In the US, these facilities alone are responsible for about 2% of the total energy usage in the country (according to research by Villanova University). If all the data centers of the world are put together, their power consumption would exceed all but four sovereign nations of the world.
The lion’s share of this energy consumption is used for cooling the servers and other computing equipment, using fans, air coolers, air conditioning, and other methods. Seattle's Office of Sustainability and Environment estimates that about 50% of all power consumption in an average data center is for cooling purposes. This cooling equipment add considerably to the size of the data center as well, contributing to the waste and inefficiency.
It is important to bring about energy efficiency, not just to reduce operational costs, but also as part of your corporate social responsibility policy. There are two ways to do something about it.
The first approach is to use the heat generated for other purposes. Cities like Munich and Vancouver already divert the heat for other purposes, and the city of Seattle plans to follow suit. Seattle aims to take the water that cools two local data centers to pipe it and warm 10 million square feet of building space in the surrounding areas. However, deploying such a diversion system can be very expensive. Furthermore, a majority of data centers in the world today are situated in heat ridden tropics, where trying to sell more heat would be similar to carting coal to Newcastle. Even in the cooler atmospheres of the UK and USA, many data centers are situated at isolated country-sides without any buildings nearby that could use the generated heat.
The other option, when there is too much heat around for it to be of any use, is to improvise and innovate on cooling systems.
A data center in Hong Kong recently innovated with a rack-mounted immersion cooling system. This novel implementation of ultra-high-density cooling supports loads of up to 225kW a rack. The set-up uses rows of rack-mounted tanks filled with Novec, a liquid cooling solution created by 3M. Inside each tank, densely-packed boards of Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASIC) run constantly as they crunch data. The Novec boils off as the chips generate heat, removing the heat as it changes from liquid to gas.
The future belongs to data centers that are leaner, smarter, and, therefore, cost and resource efficient. And the immersion cooling technology promises an extremely energy-efficient, space-saving, and cost-efficient cooling facility for data centers.