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Cooling data centres sustainably

Philip Bindley

Philip Bindley

Managing Director of Cloud and Security at Intercity
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Image credit: sdecoret / Shutterstock.com

According to the European Digital Strategy, energy demand for data centres in Europe is set to steadily increase in the next decade in line with global temperatures.

The Met Office confirmed that 2022 was the UK’s hottest year on record, with an annual average temperature of over 10°C recorded for the first time. A recent study by the Met Office also found that human-induced climate change made the UK’s record-breaking annual temperature around 160 times more likely.

Globally, it’s estimated that data centres use 200 TWh of energy each year, or the equivalent of 1% of electricity demand worldwide, which is more than the national energy consumption of some countries, including Iran. As temperatures continue to rise, data centres around the globe will require more energy for power.

To combat growing energy consumption, the European Commission released a decade-long plan to achieve climate-neutral, highly energy-efficient, and sustainable data centres by no later than 2030. As a result, energy-efficient data storage has become a priority for businesses and policymakers alike.

Data centre temperatures

Most IT produces heat, which needs extracting quickly to ensure performance isn’t affected and safety risks are avoided.

Data centre temperatures are typically kept between 17 and 24°C to prevent servers from overheating and malfunctioning. The heat produced by these data centres means that facilities need to be cooled, ventilated and humidity controlled to operate within the desired temperature range and at peak efficiency.

However, rising external temperatures are putting pressure on cooling equipment – and with the current climate regularly reaching and exceeding 30°C during summers in the UK, data centre operators will be looking for ways to keep their data centres at a sufficient temperature without contributing to climate change further.

Sustainably cooling data centres

Minimising thermal gain is one of the most efficient ways of combating high temperatures. Measures include building data centres underground, where there is little sunlight, low ambient temperatures, and natural geothermal cooling.

Higher temperatures also bring higher amounts of UV rays, which can be captured through solar panels and turned into energy to power the data centre and keep temperatures cool. The combination of housing data centres underground and using solar energy to power and prevent high temperatures affecting data centres will create a modern, efficient facility that uses less power and emits less carbon.

With air conditioning increasing electricity usage and gas emissions, many operators have turned to water to ensure that data centres remain at an optimal temperature. However, water is becoming a scarce resource, with many areas of the country suffering from seasonal droughts, meaning using water to cool data centres isn’t the most sustainable of options.

The future of cooling

Organisations can reduce energy use through ‘decentralised colocation’ – an emerging trend in which enterprise servers, and private and hybrid clouds, are located or hosted in third-party data centres spread across multiple locations rather than just one central point.

Moving your IT infrastructure to a regional colocation site generally means housing it in a purpose-built site designed to power and cool data servers. Colocation sites incorporate best-practice methods, including more efficient cooling systems, heat reuse, better infrastructure, and renewable energy.

This simple switch from in-house centres to an off-site location to store data can make organisations nationwide more sustainable while keeping data centres at an optimum temperature for performance.

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