Data centres facing longer-term cooling challenges

The growth of data centres to process exponential volumes of traffic mean that those facilities are facing longer-term cooling challenges, according to a recent report by Aggreko the energy business.

Its report – Mission Critical – says that while data centres handle an estimated 50 zetabytes of data today, by 2025 that could reach 175 zetabytes. While a range of hyper scale data centres and so called edge data centres employ sophisticated technologies to reduce their environmental impact that may not be enough to keep the data flowing smoothly.

“Serious doubts are being aired across Europe about the resilience of electricity grids,” Chris Rawson, managing director of Aggreko in Northern Europe said, “and their ability to cope with this increased energy demand and the potential impact of outages on the operation of data centres.”

Renewables

Rising summer temperatures across the globe have thrown doubt on how well free cooling systems – those that use ambient atmospheric temperatures to reduce the build up of heat – can cope with prolonged bouts of heat. In addition, while data centres have worked to include renewable energy sources into their systems, that move is not without risk.

Respondents to the survey of the data centre consultants taking part in the report said that they were concerned that their national grid infrastructures may be unable to handle the increased demand in power. Many were investing in solar, wind and battery storage to meet that challenge.

Back-up power is a major focus. About half of those taking part in the survey sought back-up power – especially in Norway, but also in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, France and Sweden.

“This appears to show that resilience could be seen as a greater consideration to data centres as they move towards renewables,” the report said. Three out of four UK data centres use battery power as a backup source of energy.

Decentralisation

Many data centres are increasingly looking to decentralise their energy needs. This was evident in 60% of respondents in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. Decentralised energy projects were expected to help mitigate potential grid limitations and also help manage costs.

IRM’s own research into risk management in the energy sector revealed shortcomings in how it manages risk.

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