Data centres are currently responsible for 5-10% of total global electricity consumption (as part of the IT sector) and approximately 0.3% of global carbon emissions. 

Perhaps not yet a grave cause for concern, yet according to recent predictions, by 2025, data centre energy consumption will account for 3.2% of worldwide carbon emissions, and by 2040, the industry will be responsible for 14% of global emissions. 

We live in a deeply connected world that is fast becoming hyper-connected. This transition is inevitable and cannot be executed without data centres. Given the digital growth rate projections for areas of the world where the internet has only just become widely adopted, it is likely that society will become increasingly reliant on data centres. 

For this reason, the sector must find alternative solutions to promote sustainable innovation – investing in renewable energies and open source solutions, creating a circular economy, and utilizing efficient software and smart hardware design. The industry must also avoid uncontrolled growth.

Global hyperscalers – Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft – have promised, or have already begun, to adopt policies to dramatically reduce their carbon footprint or become carbon negative. The data centre sector generally is paying more than lip service to cleaning up its house and taking responsibility for its impacts – economic, social and environmental.

These are the three pillars upon which the evolution of the IT sector will be based. Too often, Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and return on investment (ROI) are the primary metrics that data centre managers use to determine their success. In the harsh light of these measurements, it’s difficult to focus clearly on the benefits of sustainability.

There’s an argument for considering data centres as a sort of orchestra, where all the elements strive to work together in harmony and each one contributes to the success of the collective execution. Which is to say that there are a number of new considerations and changes – such as adopting energy efficiency solutions, software and hardware design, liquid cooling solutions, smart buildings, the circular economy –  needed in order to achieve increases in energy efficiency and decreases in water consumption. 

Savings on costs could then be used to invest in more IT equipment, which would translate into more IT hardware density and, consequently, improved performance. 

In a conventional data centre, about 40% of the electricity is used by the cooling system. Therefore, it is not surprising that this is a key focus area for innovation and creating solutions to help manage energy efficiency in the next generation of data centres – solutions such as liquid cooling for servers.

These can allow HPC, hyperscalers, data centre, edge, AI, deep learning and blockchain applications to increase efficiency by significantly lowering cooling and space costs while achieving unrivalled compute densities.

Perhaps, without the liquid cooling solution, the compute densities that will be required to manage the tech innovation of the future won’t actually be achievable – in one sense, liquid cooling is rapidly becoming a necessity.

Submer’s SmartPodX Advanced Immersion Cooling units are one example of the sort of advanced solution that’s out there. Instead of spacing servers out on vertical racks, the SmartPodX can store even the most advanced servers in special, horizontal tanks filled with SmartCoolant, a proprietary dielectric fluid.

The SmartCoolant has a high heat transfer coefficient and a specific heat greater than air, allowing data centre operators to achieve:

  • Up to 95% savings on cooling costs (corresponding to about 50% of the electricity consumption)
  • Up to 85% savings on physical space (along with a completely silent machine hall due to the absence of fans)
  • Up to 50% OPEX savings and 25%-40% CAPEX savings
  • A 60% reduction in IT hardware failure rate because the coolant removes heat away from the cores and protects the servers from dust, abrupt changes of temperature and moisture
  • A 30% increase in IT Hardware life-span

According to a 2019 survey, for the first time in the last 12 years, the energy efficiency of data centres slightly declined, from an average Power Usage Efficiency (PUE) of 1.58 in 2018 to 1.67 in 20192 – which, by any assessment criteria, is going the wrong way. Liquid or immersion cooling systems can offer PUE scores of just above one – without having to move the data centre operations to Antarctica.

The power and cost benefits of liquid-cooled servers are clear – and the environmental benefits follow these. Coolants are biodegradable and heat can be captured and reused to heat the data centre building itself or a nearby urban or industrial area. 

Liquid cooling is yet another way in which data centre operators can change their way of operating, take accountability and responsibility for their energy consumption and improve their overall sustainability. 

Listen to the Liquid Cooling podcast here or read the full report: “Data Centres 2021 – Power and Influence

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