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The Future of Data Center Cooling: Innovations for Sustainability

As technology, internet traffic, and power-hungry workloads require more computing resources, the demand for data centers increases. A recent Data Centre Trends 2023 report brought many interesting insights. Chief among them was the overall trend that demand will continue to grow by 15 percent yearly.

This increased usage brings sustainability concerns. Data centers already use 1.5 percent of global electricity consumption, making providers a key player in the hunt for net zero. Improving energy efficiency presents many challenges to the data center industry — but also exciting opportunities for innovation.

At the heart of this challenge lies the implementation of efficient and sustainable cooling solutions. The average modern data center uses around 40 percent of its power for cooling. After all, to provide a secure, high-quality service, processors and other hardware must be kept in optimal conditions. The future of data center cooling techniques must bring methods that remove this excess heat in a more environmentally friendly way.

In this blog, we’ll examine the range of cooling technologies currently employed within the industry. We’ll dive into each method, analyzing its advantages against potential limitations. Then, we will look at cutting-edge data center cooling — how manufacturers at the height of innovation are championing sustainability whilst addressing high-performance computing demands. Let’s get started.

Data Center Cooling Methods and Systems

Modern data centers handle a wide range of traffic, enabling everything from financial transactions to social media interactions. As this demand means data centers grow in scale and complexity, the importance of efficient cooling solutions intensifies.

There are several common cooling methods in use today. There are also many promising new techniques in the pipeline. Ensuring these systems are efficient, reliable, and sustainable is perhaps the key challenge for data center providers. Below, we dig into some of the most prominent cooling methods, looking at their respective strengths and weaknesses.

Air Cooling

Air cooling uses air conditioning, fans, and vents to circulate ambient air, expelling the hot air produced by computing equipment. It's the most traditional method and forms the basis for many data center cooling strategies.

Advantages of air cooling in data centers:

  • Generally reliable performance levels and suitable for various data center types
  • Proven technology with a history of effective air temperature management
  • Easily implemented in both small and large-scale facilities

Disadvantages of air cooling in data centers:

  • Potential for high energy consumption, especially for facilities in warmer climates
  • Dependence on airflow can cause fluctuations in energy usage
  • Can bring high energy costs if not managed effectively
Liquid Cooling

Liquid cooling technologies have emerged in recent times as a popular solution, with almost 40 percent of data centers employing it in some way. Liquid cooling systems use coolants that circulate through a pipe network, absorbing heat away from IT equipment. They can be especially effective for cooling high-density servers.

Advantages of liquid cooling in data centers:

  • Can typically offer superior heat removal compared to air cooling
  • Uses the conductive properties of liquids to quickly move heat away from servers
  • Particularly effective for high-power density facilities

Disadvantages of liquid cooling in data centers:

  • Can use vast amounts of the local water supply.
  • Coolant leaks can be environmentally unfriendly if not addressed properly
  • Complex to set up and can have several potential points of failure

Spotlight on our Direct Liquid Cooling

Earlier this year, we launched a cloud and carrier-neutral Paris center, emphasizing energy efficiency. Addressing Data Gravity concerns, the La Courneuve hub incorporates direct liquid cooling, focusing on performance needs while minimizing Scope 1 and 2 emissions. This cutting-edge liquid cooling solution guarantees optimal energy use and brings economic advantages for clients.

Immersion Cooling

With immersion cooling, IT components are directly submerged in dielectric fluids that cool by absorbing heat. Servers are kept in non-conductive, absorbent fluids that provide effective heat management.

Advantages of immersion cooling in data centers:

  • Direct cooling can allow for highly efficient temperature management
  • Reduces the reliance on other cooling infrastructures like fans
  • Has the potential for significantly reduced energy consumption

Disadvantages of immersion cooling in data centers:

  • Might not be suitable for all types of data centers
  • Brings potential risks associated with leaks
  • Costly and tricky to implement
Evaporative Cooling

Evaporative cooling uses fans to draw outside air in, cooling before deploying it to cool equipment. By using the natural phenomenon of water evaporation, this method draws heat away from the air in an efficient manner.

Advantages of evaporation cooling in data centers:

  • Offers reliable cooling when used in appropriate climates
  • Can be more efficient than traditional air cooling in specific conditions
  • Uses water instead of coolant liquids

Disadvantages of evaporation cooling in data centers:

  • Performance can decrease in the wrong conditions
  • High dependence on water availability and quality
  • Can require an overhaul of existing data center infrastructure
Free Cooling

This system capitalizes on external conditions, primarily cooler outside air or water. Cooling data centers using free air bypasses traditional cooling mechanisms when external conditions make it possible.

Advantages of free cooling in data centers:

  • Provides effective cooling when external temperatures are favorable
  • Removes the need for mechanical cooling, bringing massive energy savings
  • Uses natural resources, minimizing carbon footprint

Disadvantages of free cooling in data centers:

  • Limited to regions with colder climates or cold seasons
  • Variability in external conditions can affect performance
  • May require backup cooling solutions in case of unpredicted changes
Data Center Cooling Design and Optimization

Data center cooling isn't merely about installing fans and other coolants. It's about balancing design and optimization, implementing both efficiency and efficacy. Strategic design combined with optimization ensures that IT equipment can function without overheating while reducing environmental impact.

Below are some important factors for optimizing data center performance.

  • Hot/cold aisle containment: By configuring server racks in alternating rows — with cold air intakes facing one way and hot air output on the other — data centers can create hot and cold ‘corridors’. This maximizes efficiency by ensuring cooled air is where it's needed most, while preventing the mixing of hot and cold air.
  • Airflow management: By optimizing airflow through vents and barriers, data centers can minimize areas of stationary air. Proper airflow management lowers cooling costs by reducing the need to compensate for warm spots. It also helps ensure that cooling is constant throughout the facility.
  • Working inside safe limits: Modern IT equipment is actually quite resilient. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) publish temperature standards that give safe operating conditions for common equipment. In some cases, maintaining a slightly warmer temperature — if safe — can save considerable energy.
  • Preventing downtime: Internet of Things (IoT) devices, machine learning, and automated systems can help data center operators spot problems before they happen. By monitoring systems and installing timely patches and upgrades, facilities can prevent downtime and improve efficiency further.
  • Humidity control: Finally, managing humidity is crucial. Too much can lead to hardware damage, while too little can create damaging static electricity.
Data Center Cooling Manufacturers and Solutions

The data center cooling market is vibrant and ever-changing. Manufacturers are investing not just in improving today's solutions, but also in pioneering sustainable technologies for the future. Below, we look at some of today's most popular and innovative cooling providers.

Schneider Electric: Schneider Electric's cooling solutions are renowned for their efficiency and come equipped with IoT features. This allows for predictive maintenance and optimal performance.

Iceotope: Iceotope brings novel immersion cooling technologies that can transform data center performance. Applicable to traditional, hyperscale, and edge computing environments, Iceotope’s technologies can help implement notable improvements in power usage effectiveness (PUE).

Stulz: Stulz is known for their careful temperature and humidity control initiatives. By using free cooling, Stulz helps data centers minimize energy consumption and reduce CO2 emissions.

Vertiv: Creating adaptive and intelligent cooling solutions, Vertiv uses machine learning to enhance cooling efficiency. By continually learning and adapting to a data center’s environment, the Vertiv system ensures optimal cooling, conserving energy and improving equipment longevity.

Spotlight on our Cooling Tower Initiatives

Data center operators are likewise innovating to improve cooling efficiency. At our SIN10 facility in Singapore, for example, we employ DCI electrolysis for water preservation, saving 1.24 million liters monthly. This process eliminates chemical usage, allowing water to be used three times as long before becoming wastewater. Amid Singapore's escalating water demands, SIN10 has since lowered both water and power usage.

Data Center Cooling Trends and Future

Looking to the future of data center cooling, we see several exciting trends that can help further reduce the industry’s environmental impact. Using new technologies and strategic data center design, for example, could prove vital.

  1. Adaptive Cooling: Employing AI with cooling systems promises more adaptability than ever. These solutions continually learn and adjust to the specific cooling needs of each data center in real-time — reducing over-cooling and energy waste.
  2. Edge Data Centers: We could see even more data centers placed in strategic 'edge' locations in the future. These edge centers ensure low-latency data delivery and introduce innovative cooling possibilities in their unique settings.
  3. Sustainable Energy: While it’s vital to become more efficient at energy management, it’s also possible to use energy from renewable sources. Solar or wind-powered data centers, for instance, are no longer a dream but a reality. Combining renewable energy sources with efficient cooling strategies presents a holistic approach to sustainability progress.
  4. These innovations and changes, coupled with advanced cooling techniques, can help make future data centers increasingly energy efficient.
The Future of Data Center Cooling Solutions: Key Takeaways

Various cooling systems are available in modern data centers. Each brings its own unique benefits and potential drawbacks. From traditional air cooling to liquid and immersion technologies, each has the power to help the global data center ecosystem reduce its energy and water consumption.

No matter which system is used, one thing remains true: Efficient data center design, grounded in best practices, amplifies cooling systems’ effectiveness. Manufacturers are looking to nature and technology for green innovations, ensuring that future data centers don't just deliver an excellent service — but do it sustainably.

Learn more about our ESG goals, or contact us for further information.

Systems for temperature and humidity control are also becoming common as data centers become more sustainable.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is data center cooling?

Data center cooling refers to the methods and technologies used to maintain optimal temperatures for IT equipment. It helps ensure efficient performance and prevents overheating, which can damage resources and degrade performance levels. Cooling techniques are increasingly vital to reducing data centers’ environmental impact.

How is cooling done in a data center?

Cooling in data centers is achieved through various methods like:

  • Air cooling
  • Liquid cooling
  • Immersion in heat-sapping solutions
  • Evaporative cooling
  • Free cooling

The choice depends on the center’s scale, location, and specific infrastructure needs.

What is the best cooling system for a data center?

The "best" cooling system for a data center varies based on many influences. Factors like the data center’s size, location, and workload demands, for example, all have an impact. Increasingly sustainable, and efficient solutions like liquid immersion are becoming popular due to their high efficiency and lower carbon footprint.

What are the cooling components of a data center?

The key cooling components of a data center include:

  • Chillers
  • Cooling towers
  • Air conditioners
  • Liquid cooling pipes
  • Fans and vents

Advanced AI monitoring systems for temperature and humidity control are also becoming common as data centers become more sustainable.