Often in life there are conflicting interests and trade-offs to be made – and nowhere is this more so than in the data centre, where the industry’s current focus on energy saving means that water cooling – with all its electro-mechanical maintenance challenges – has become almost ubiquitous in nature. Mark Hirst of Cannon Technologies explains how, with a little planning and tapping into the latest R&D efforts, modern data centres can be made both green and reliable.
Data centres have come a long way since their early origins in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Back in the day, those early deployments of IT were both complex to operate and maintain – and even required a special environment in which to operate.
Large volumes of cables were required – and complex architectures evolved to support the nest of cables – and which can still be seen in today’s legacy data centres.
By the 1990s, however, the data centre industry had evolved with standard racks for mounting of equipment, as well as raised floors and overfloor/underfloor cable trays. And these changes meant that the entire infrastructure had to be cooled to avoid overheating.
If we fast-forward to today, the modern data centre has progressed considerably – green and energy efficiency are now key watchwords. Future evolutions will likely include the use of solar power and fuel cells, increased cloud adoption, higher utilisation rate and increased IT systems density.
Greening and energy efficiency
Greenpeace’s April 2014 study – entitled ‘Clicking Clean’ – reports that the technology giants of Apple, Facebook and Google are now ‘green Internet innovators’, owing to their commitment to renewable energy. The report also quotes that data centres are now responsible for about 2.5 per cent of Europe’s energy usage.
Our observations suggest that green data centres can, however, be highly cost effective, with a typical return on investment (ROI) of between six and 24 months, representing a win-win situation in both the energy consumption and efficiency stakes.
Although the ‘greening’ of data centres is a clear trend in the IT industry, there are a number of challenges for vendors and clients wishing to adopt this strategy, including the issue of heat generation in a dense server environment.
As a result, the power required to dissipate this concentrated heat is always going to be an issue. And the on-demand power this requires – as any IT professional will confirm – invariably costs money.
Energy efficiency in the modern data centre
The challenge facing the IT industry – and not just the rapidly evolving data centre world – is that green technology often makes use of new and largely untried systems. Our approach at Cannon is to adopt green strategies wherever possible – but always using tried and tested methods.
In most data centres, the real challenge lies in balancing the needs of the cooling mechanisms involved, and ensuring as low a power consumption by the cooling systems as possible.
There are several ways of cooling a data centre, each of which have their advantages in different deployment and climate conditions. Generally speaking there are two main categories of cooling – active and passive.
- Active cooling – which splits into three sub-groups, water, air (fan-driven) and solid state (thermoelectric) – is, by its very nature, a hefty consumer of energy.
- Passive cooling – which also splits neatly into three sub-sets, venting, convection and aisle cooling – has, as the name implies, a zero or minimal energy consumption footprint.
Whilst active IT cooling systems have – perhaps understandably – been popular in the past, we are now seeing a growing number of enlightened clients, ranging from facilities management companies all the way to large corporates, adopting passive cooling systems.
This is partially due to the green nature of these systems, but also to the significantly reduced energy (and consequential cost) footprint of the racking and server systems concerned.
So how do these passive systems work? Let’s take the example of our own venting technology – MaxiVent – that uses an enhanced ventilation door design that increases the cooling effect of airflow through a cabinet. The result is an 82 per cent airflow through the door aperture due to ribbed curved mesh and vented frames.
Aisle cooling, meanwhile, is another highly effective approach to passive cooling and centres on a cold aisle containment solution that provides segregation of cold aisle airflow from hot aisle exhaust air in the typical data centre.
On the active cooling front, companies tend to be split in favouring water or air cooled data centre technology. Whilst each solution has its advantages, we tend to favour water cooled systems, on the basis that the systems involved are both simple and robust. The simple and robust features of water cooled systems are highly important to our growing base of customers.
Cannon’s origins stem from a military technology background and we have found that – even for today’s military clients – the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle applies, as any form of technology needs to have as lengthy a MTBF (mean time between failure) as possible, as well as being simple to fix when – and if – it goes wrong in the field.