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Next-Gen Cooling Is Advancing Data Centers

Written by: Kayla Matthews journalist & writer

Keeping data centers within the ideal temperature range is crucial due to the expensive and necessary equipment inside. If the data center gets too hot, servers could malfunction, and their expected lifespans could shorten. Both of those outcomes pose concerns to operators that appeal to customers based on reliability and high uptime levels.

It's no surprise that the global data center cooling market is growing, and that trend will continue for the next several years. An analysis shows that — after getting valued at $8.6 billion in 2018 — the sector will have a 13.5% combined annual growth rate from 2019 to 2025. Here's a look at some of the advanced cooling options that are gaining ground.

Artificial Intelligence Can Cut Data Center Cooling Costs

Artificial intelligence (AI) could stop data centers from consuming too much power and costing a prohibitively high amount to cool. Google found that out when its engineers developed an algorithm that saved 40% in cooling costs over time. More recent efforts at the company concern using AI to figure out the best cooling infrastructure for a data center.

Data center decision-makers often place a lot of attention on the geographic location of a new data center. They believe the site's climate makes a vital difference in cooling outcomes. They're not necessarily wrong but using AI to examine infrastructure choices could lead to a reduced emphasis on a data center's physical place and encourage people to focus on other aspects.

For example, some companies sell raised flooring for computer rooms that offer 25% to 66% airflow options, helping keep the racks at the right temperature. These possibilities also reduce the demand on climate control equipment. It's not always easy to know which features will most likely have the desired impact on cooling. AI could remove much of the uncertainty, leading to more high-performance facilities and fewer disappointments.

Expert Says Liquid Cooling Will Gain Traction

Liquid cooling solutions are not novel ideas for data centers, but they're not yet as popular as other options. However, when Robert Tozer recently accepted an opportunity as the keynote speaker at an IT cooling conference, he predicted that would soon change. Tozer specializes in optimizing mission-critical facilities and has authored several dozen papers on the subject.

Tozer expects future chip densities to be too big to accommodate current heatsink setups, thereby driving the push towards liquid cooling. He explained, "Look at the size of the chip compared to the size of the heatsink. As the density goes up, you literally cannot fit the heatsink into your 1U server." He also confirmed there is no universal solution, and that data center operators should investigate options on a small scale to determine which ones best fit particular needs.

In 2018, Microsoft took the concept of liquid-based data center cooling to the next level by plunging a shipping container-like data center into the ocean. They retrieved it in July 2020 and found promising results. The underwater facility had a lower failure rate than conventional data centers, and Microsoft's team determined that such data centers were eight times more reliable than those on land, too.

It's too early to say whether underwater data centers will become commonplace. If they do, such a trend could be a game-changer for people currently managing data centers. Microsoft built its submerged container not to need maintenance during its time under the surface.

Companies Develop New System With Low-Pressure Refrigerant Option

Another recent development concerns a data center cooling solution devised by two companies working together. Multinational IT and electronics company NEC teamed up with Japanese telecommunications provider NTT Communications. The result was a new option that relies on R1224yd, a non-flammable, low-pressure refrigerant.

This project is the first instance of using a low-pressure refrigerant in an air-cooled data center. The companies' experiments showed that this setup used half the power consumption of similar configurations using water to achieve cooling rather than air.

It will be a while before people could see this new refrigerant frequently offered to cool data centers. However, there are plans to make this cooling system commercially available in 2022. NTT may use it in its facilities before then, giving others a clearer idea of how well it works in the real world.

Until then, data center professionals should continue to stay updated on this emerging possibility and others. Understanding what's available in the marketplace makes it easier to decide which innovations to use and why.

The Future of Data Center Cooling Is Here

These examples show that people need not expect to wait years before seeing next-generation temperature control solutions come to fruition. Many are already available or will be soon. Together, they could influence the choices data center professionals make when keeping their facilities cool.


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