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The perfect pair: Liquid cooling and the digital twin

digital twin

The onus on data centre sustainability has never been higher, and the pressure is on for data centre operators to comply. Here, Dave King, product manager at Future Facilities, explains how a combination of liquid cooling and a digital twin could help businesses achieve their green goals, alongside a raft of other worth-while benefits.

Despite all the pressures faced by businesses and governments during 2020, the focus on sustainability and environmental awareness took important steps forward. This was illustrated by the UK and incoming US government’s promises to commit to impactful climate change policies, not to mention David Attenborough’s stark commentary on what will happen to the planet if we don’t change our collective behaviour.

As such, 2021 and beyond will see businesses push even further to achieve their sustainability goals; incentivised by government regulations, taxation and public pressure. For the data centre industry this is likely to include a tax based on energy usage and efficiency. We will likely see data centres forming new technology pairings – where separate technologies, each of which has a pre-existing function, will combine to manage current and upcoming pressures.

One example is the pairing of liquid cooling with the adoption of a digital twin. By uniting these two innovations, businesses will be able to achieve their sustainability goals, while also improving data centre capacity and reducing operating costs. However, before we can explore how they can be used together, we must first ask why liquid cooling is the way forward.

Liquid cooling takes centre stage

Liquid cooling has long been tipped to eventually supersede air cooling, with air and liquid cooling co-existing in the meantime. But, 2021 is the year that liquid cooling adoption is set to really take off, thanks to the widespread acceptance of traditional air cooling’s deficiencies in the context of high density systems, and the benefits offered by liquid cooling.

For example, in order to cool high powered chips you need to move a large volume of air, which is challenging in the small confines of a server box. Direct chip liquid cooling does not share this challenge, and keeps rates of energy consumption down. Therefore, liquid cooling is an ideal choice to successfully combat the greater levels of heat produced by high-performance computing (HPC) and high-density requirements such as Artificial Intelligence (AI).

From a sustainability point of view another challenge with air is that it is difficult to transport effectively. As such, the waste heat from air cooling can usually only be used in neighbouring offices. This means it can’t always be channelled productively to support sustainable practices by other businesses. Liquid cooling doesn’t share these limitations.

While there are significant capital expenditure considerations, and operational complexities attached to liquid cooling, it does cut operational costs long-term while supporting sustainability with a clear environmental benefit.

What’s more, businesses can reduce their need to invest in new infrastructure by using liquid cooling on chips, and air cooling to remove the heat from the rack. Therefore, as the popularity of high power densities booms over the next five years – research from MarketsandMarkets indicates HPC will grow by $11.6 billion between 2020 and 2025 – so too must the adoption of liquid cooling. This will be a key move for data centres striving to future proof their infrastructure.

Unlocking the value of liquid cooling through the data centre digital twin

It’s evident that data centres can bolster their sustainability efforts by supplementing air with liquid systems, and that this is driving significant uptake. In fact, the market is set to reach a valuation of $3.2 billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 22.6%, according to MarketsandMarkets.

However, if businesses want to achieve maximum financial and environmental return on their liquid cooling investments, they need to fully understand and manage its impact in their facility. By deploying a technology such as liquid cooling with clear performance targets and thresholds, and with a clear understanding of how these relate to other components within the infrastructure, the investment derives far greater value.

A digital twin – a 3D, virtual replica of a data centre that can simulate its physical behaviour under any operating scenario – provides this visibility and predictability. This replica allows designers and operators to test out different setups and scenarios in a safe environment ahead of real-world deployments, using science-based simulation.

This ultimately enables them to make more efficient use of their data centres’ space while reducing risk. By using a digital twin to analyse the optimum set-up of a liquid cooling system, and assess how it will work within the context of existing air cooled infrastructure, businesses can minimise energy consumption. This will empower them to streamline costs, not to mention helping them reach their environmental goals.

A combined approach to meeting sustainability objectives

Building on the sustainability groundwork that was laid in 2020, governments, businesses and customers alike will strive for a more environmentally sound future in 2021. Rather than ever-increasing high-density technologies forming an obstacle to this goal, they will drive data centres to pursue new means of fulfilling their sustainability objectives.

Chief among these will be the adoption of liquid cooling alongside traditional air systems; facilitated in its implementation by the digital twin. By combining these technologies, businesses will unlock cost efficiencies and make 2021 the year the data centre industry takes important steps towards greener practices.

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