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Getting the most out of Computational Fluid Dynamics

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Data centres are complex energy-demanding environments. The number of data centres and their energy consumption around the world is growing at a rapid rate.

Several trends are shaping future data network electricity use. Global internet traffic, for example, more than doubled between 2017 and 2020 and will possibly double again by 2023 if current trends continue.

By 2025, data centres are forecast to consume more than 2% of the global electricity supply. As such, there’s an urgent need to design data centres in a way that makes them as energy efficient as possible, especially as many data centre operators have committed to becoming net zero carbon by 2030.

A major part of the total energy consumption in data centres results from cooling servers and related equipment. To ensure cooling can take place in a more sustainable, energy efficient way and help to reduce the total energy consumption of data centres, the complex and critical nature of data centres requires in-depth investigation.

One tool that’s particularly beneficial in achieving this in data centre applications is computational fluid dynamics (CFD). CFD is the study of fluid behaviour with the help of computers by solving complex numerical algorithms to predict fluid flow and heat transfer. The key role of CFD analysis is to deliver an efficient design solution where a data centre can operate normally and productively at a low Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE).

CFD benefits

By using CFD, engineers can analyse the data centre airflow management and data centre design in much more detail and also at an early stage in the design process. If the airflow and equipment location and selection is not managed properly, this has the potential to result in reduced efficiency of equipment, design capacities not being achieved and possible downtime and, eventually, damaged and inadequate IT equipment. 

However, through using CFD in data centre design and particularly early in the design process, data centre operators can save time and money. This is because, through CFD, we can predict the future outcome of design decisions. For example, CFD provides detailed design insights which can tell you, before the data centre is built and the IT equipment is in place, how key aspects of the data centre and critical equipment will perform. 

This can enable you to identify potential design challenges to overcome, reduce design mitigations, streamline data centre performance and ultimately assist in improving PUE.

The road to net zero carbon

CFD providers understand the urgency of achieving net zero carbon and, this year, they have added additional features to CFD packages which makes net zero carbon targets possible. For example, simulations of the internal and external view of a data centre by using CFD software has become quite common in the data centre industry, with the rapid developments in numerical models and computational power in the last decade.

Previously, CFD packages only allowed an airflow-management based solver. This year, however, there have been incredibly significant upgrades made in CFD package providers such as 6Sigma. The 6SigmaDCX sets a new milestone in energy efficient data centres by offering a wide range of features to enhance data centre design and operations.

Other upgrades in areas such as energy-efficient models and integrated data centre operating systems have also taken the importance of CFD to another level. Energy efficiency should now be the key factor in any data centre design and embedded code for PUE calculation via internal and external CFD simulations are vital to achieving the lowest PUE that is possible. Also, integrating the CFD model into the real-time performance of Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) is crucial to modifying the head loads location in data centres in order to achieve high energy efficiency within it.

Looking ahead

As computing speeds increase and hardware costs drop, CFD will become more integrated into data centre design and real-life monitoring systems. It will be used in real-time analysis to simulate dynamic models of data centres based on the realistic data input from data centres.

As the majority of energy consumption in a typical data centre results from cooling equipment, it means CFD plays a vital role in analysing the airflow management within the data centre and reducing the energy consumption in cooling.

For data centres to truly succeed at becoming net zero carbon, and become part of the green revolution, their design, directed by CFD capabilities, must be at the core of any energy efficiency strategy.

Picture of Ramamoorthy Sethuramalingam
Ramamoorthy Sethuramalingam
CFD Engineer at B&W Engineering

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