Cambridge University: Huge Cost Savings With Data Centre Cooling

In 2010 Cambridge University installed a system of six. EcoCooling units in their main Data centre for the Engineering Department.  The actual metered saving have been nothing short of amazing.  The University have since installed two further systems in other Data Centres on their site.

Due to the drastically reduced electricity usage the University have actually been able to increase the amount of power used for Data Racks by increasing the number of servers in the area as they now have extra available power.

The Importance of data centre cooling

Data centres play a vital role in the digital age, serving as the nerve center for storing, processing, and delivering vast amounts of information. However, this continuous operation generates significant heat, which can have severe consequences if not properly managed. Inefficient cooling can result in equipment failure, reduced performance, and increased energy consumption. Therefore, implementing effective cooling solutions is paramount for ensuring the reliability, performance, and longevity of data centre operations.

2. Understanding Data Centre Cooling

The Importance of Cooling in Data Centres

Data centres generate substantial heat due to the high-density equipment they house. Heat is primarily produced by servers, networking equipment, and power distribution units. Without adequate cooling, these devices can quickly overheat, leading to system failures, data loss, and costly downtime. Proper cooling ensures that the temperature and humidity levels within the data centre remain within optimal ranges, safeguarding equipment and maintaining uninterrupted operations.

Challenges in Data Centre Cooling

Data centre cooling presents several challenges, primarily driven by increasing power densities and the need for energy efficiency. The challenges include:

  • Heat Density: Modern data centres are becoming more compact, accommodating a higher number of servers and devices within limited space. This increased heat density requires innovative cooling solutions to prevent hotspots and maintain uniform temperature distribution.

  • Energy Efficiency: Cooling represents a significant portion of a data centre's energy consumption. As the demand for data centres continues to grow, energy efficiency becomes crucial to reduce operational costs and minimize environmental impact.

  • Scalability: Data centres need to be flexible and scalable to accommodate future growth. Cooling solutions should be adaptable to changes in equipment density and configuration without compromising efficiency and effectiveness.

3. Types of Data Centre Cooling Systems

Data centre cooling systems can be broadly classified into air-based and liquid-based cooling systems. Each type has its own advantages, limitations, and specific use cases.

Air-Based Cooling Systems

Air-based cooling systems rely on the circulation of cool air within the data centre to dissipate heat. These systems include:

  • Air Conditioning Units (ACUs): ACUs use refrigeration cycles to remove heat from the air and maintain a controlled temperature. They are commonly used in small-to-medium-sized data centres.

  • Chilled Water Systems: Chilled water systems utilize a heat exchanger to transfer heat from the data centre air to a chilled water loop. This chilled water is then circulated to cooling units or air handlers.

Liquid-Based Cooling Systems

Liquid-based cooling systems involve the use of liquid, typically water, to directly cool the IT equipment or remove heat from the air within the data centre. Some common liquid-based cooling methods include:

  • Cold Plate Cooling: Cold plates are attached to heat-generating components, such as processors and memory modules, to directly absorb and dissipate heat.

  • Rack-Level Liquid Cooling: In this approach, liquid-cooled racks are used, where heat is removed through liquid-filled pipes running through the racks.

  • Indirect Liquid Cooling: Indirect liquid cooling utilizes a heat exchanger to transfer heat from the data centre air to a liquid loop, which is then cooled using an external chiller or cooling tower.

4. Best Practices for Data Centre Cooling

Implementing best practices for data centre cooling can optimize cooling efficiency, minimize energy consumption, and enhance the overall reliability of the data centre infrastructure. Some key practices include:

Hot Aisle/Cold Aisle Containment

Hot aisle/cold aisle containment is a design strategy that separates hot and cold air streams within the data centre. By creating isolated hot and cold aisles, airflow management is improved, reducing the mixing of hot and cold air and preventing hotspots.

Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) Analysis

CFD analysis involves simulating the airflow and temperature distribution within the data centre using computational models. This analysis helps identify potential cooling inefficiencies, optimize airflow patterns, and ensure uniform cooling across the data centre.

Airflow Management

Proper airflow management is vital for efficient cooling. This includes optimizing air supply and return pathways, minimizing obstructions, and implementing strategies such as raised floors, blanking panels, and aisle containment to direct airflow effectively.

5. Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Considerations

Data centres consume vast amounts of energy, making energy efficiency a critical concern. Energy-efficient cooling solutions not only reduce operational costs but also contribute to sustainability efforts. Some considerations include:

The Impact of Cooling on Energy Consumption

Cooling can account for a significant portion of a data centre's energy consumption, often exceeding 30%. Implementing energy-efficient cooling technologies and strategies can result in substantial energy savings and cost reductions.

Green Cooling Technologies

Green cooling technologies focus on minimizing environmental impact and maximizing energy efficiency. These technologies include free cooling, evaporative cooling, and heat recovery systems, which utilize natural resources and advanced engineering to achieve efficient cooling.

Data centre cooling is crucial for the reliable and efficient operation of modern data centres. By understanding the importance of cooling, the challenges involved, and the various cooling technologies and strategies available, data centre operators can make informed decisions to optimize cooling efficiency, reduce energy consumption, and promote sustainability. Implementing best practices and exploring energy-efficient cooling solutions will contribute to the long-term success and environmental responsibility of data centre operations.