A New Approach to Data Center Cooling Changes the Chiller-vs.-Free Cooling Conversation

Free cooling can dramatically reduce the power needed to cool the data center. Yet very few (if any) colocation providers leverage it. A new approach to data center cooling means colocation customers get the energy efficiency and lower costs of free cooling with the reliability and locate-anywhere flexibility of a chiller plant.

Free cooling, which is the use of naturally cool air instead of mechanical refrigeration, can dramatically reduce the power needed to cool the data center. For colocation tenants, that means dramatically reduced costs.

But traditional free cooling systems aren’t practical for most colocation data centers. There are three primary reasons why:

1) In locations where it gets too hot and/or too humid, traditional free cooling doesn’t work – or it brings cold aisle temperatures to levels that most colocation tenants simply aren’t comfortable with.

2) Without conditioning (which can be expensive and reduces the efficiency of the system), outside air can introduce contaminants to the data center and/or make the data center too humid or too dry – all of which can cause an outage.

3) Traditional free cooling systems typically aren’t able to meet the cooling needs of high density IT environments.

So there are very few (if any) colocation providers leveraging free cooling at all – they still use the old chiller plant/forced air technology. Their customers, then, are trading energy efficiency and lower costs for location flexibility and reliability.

That’s a tradeoff that customers at Aligned Data Centers don’t have to make, thanks to our cooling technology (from the award-winning Inertech, also an Aligned Energy company), which delivers ultra-efficiency and lower costs in any climate with Tier IV level reliability.

5 key differences between chiller plant/forced air systems and the Aligned Data Centers cooling system – and what they mean for you

1. They blow cold air in; we remove the heat

Our new approach to data center cooling was born out of the understanding that the data center cooling problem is actually a heat removal problem. So instead of blowing cold air into the data center, our technology removes the heat. A heat sink draws the hot air from the servers, passes it across coils and “neutralizes” the heat without chilling it – sending 75-77°F air to the server inlets at the front of the enclosure.

How it benefits our customers:
  • Removing heat at its source takes far less energy than making outside air cold and blowing it into the data center to mix with the hot air there.
  • Removing the heat is also more effective – we can take far more heat out than a traditional chiller plant can. That allows our customers to run higher densities (25 kW+ per rack) without having to spread their racks apart (which strands capacity).
  • The close-coupled heat removal system allows our customers to run racks at different densities in the same pod without worrying about hot spots. That’s not possible with a system that’s blowing cold air into the space.
  • Our system can flex according to demand; it’s dynamic, ramping up when IT loads are higher, and slowing down when they’re lower. In contrast, a traditional forced air/chiller system is static, which means it’s inefficient when IT loads are low, and can’t support above certain loads.
2. They push cold air up; we allow it to flow down

It’s a standard principle of thermodynamics: hot air rises. Our system takes advantage of that principle and absorbs heat at its source, allowing hot air to rise and cooler, denser air to settle where it is needed. In contrast, a traditional chiller plant has to push cold air up through the floor to where it’s needed and pull hot air down from the ceiling to get cooled – requiring more energy, and raised floor.

How it benefits our customers:
  • Our customers maximize every square foot of capacity of their IT footprints. In contrast, with a traditional chiller plant/forced air system, the server racks have to be positioned very specifically over those cold air vents, so their customers often have to take more space than they need.
  • Following the principles of thermodynamics and allowing cooler air to settle uses much less energy than forcing cold air to rise. Where in a chiller plant/forced air system fan power is about 10% of IT load, in our system it is 1%.
3. They use power- and water-guzzling chiller plants; we use a power- and water-efficient air-cooled adiabatic rejection system

Our air-cooled adiabatic rejection system comprised of two major components: a fluid cooler with an indirect evaporative cooling mode, and a compressor trim unit. The distinctive design combines both condenser heat rejection and water-side economization functions into the same product. In contrast to traditional chillers, this system relies on free cooling most of the time, even in hot climates. When temperatures can’t support 100% free cooling, the system makes use of indirect evaporative cooling. The cycle consistently and effectively manages water and compression power consumption.

How it benefits our customers:
  • Our customers get up to 80% savings on energy and up to 85% savings on water when compared to a traditional chiller system.
  • We guarantee an annualized PUE of 1.15 and use that in our pricing calculations – so you get the cost savings generated by our efficiency.
  • Because our system is so much more efficient than a traditional chiller, we don’t have to build as much infrastructure to support peak load. That means our customers get up to 60% more IT capacity out of the power utility.
4. Their cooling system has more than 1000 moving parts; ours has less than 10

When Inertech designed our cooling system they dramatically simplified the cycle and removed the complexity. Where a traditional chiller plant has more than 1,000 moving parts, our cooling system has less than 10. Furthermore, the system was architected for reliability – it runs active/active (2N by design). And the heat removal system uses refrigerant, so there’s no water in the data hall.

How it benefits our customers:
  • Less complexity and fewer moving parts means fewer failure points and thus higher reliability.
  • 2N by design means any part of the system could fail and it wouldn’t be a failure point for the data center. (That is very unusual in a mechanical system.)
  • No water in the data hall means no risk of leak. In a traditional chiller system, water valves are huge opportunities for failure.
  • All told, the cooling system is as reliable as a Tier IV chiller plant – 99.9999% reliability.
5. They build in multi-megawatt increments; we build in 500 kW increments

The smallest chiller plants are designed to support multi-megawatts of IT load. Procuring new chiller plants and then bringing them online takes many months. For those reasons, most colocation data centers build their chiller plants to support the maximum load of the data center. That means until the data center reaches full capacity, the chiller plants are running at less than full load, which is inefficient.

In contrast, our heat rejection system is built in 500 kW increments, which enables “right sized” deployment of cooling infrastructure in line with IT demand.

How it benefits our customers:
  • In addition to higher levels of efficiency (though our system is as efficient at 10% load as at 100% load) right-sized cooling infrastructure also enables capital cost deferment – which supports our consumption-based pricing model.

The benefit of the Inertech cooling system in use at our Phoenix data center and Plano data center is that our customers don’t have to trade energy efficiency and lower costs for location flexibility and reliability. They get ultra-efficiency and lower costs no matter the climate, with 99.9999% reliability.

Learn more about the technology behind Aligned Data Centers’ cooling system. Or see it for yourself – schedule a tour of the Phoenix colocation facility or Plano colocation facility.

Data Center Water Demands Are Rapidly Growing While Supply Shrinks – Water Efficiency Has Become Essential

U.S. data centers consumed 626 billion liters of water in 2014, according to the recent United States Data Center Energy Usage Report. That’s 250,400 Olympic-size swimming pools of water. Here’s how we can do better.

U.S. data centers consumed 626 billion liters of water in 2014, according to the recent United States Data Center Energy Usage Report.

That’s 250,400 Olympic-size swimming pools of water.

That kind of statistic is particularly shocking given that water scarcity affects 4 billion people – including 130 million in the U.S. – according to research by Mesfin M. Mekonnen and Arjen Y. Hoekstra of the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Water crises rank just behind climate change and weapons of mass destruction as the most impactful risk for the years to come, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Perception Survey.

Average number of water scarce months per year

Source: Mesfin M. Mekonnen and Arjen Y. Hoekstra in Science Advances

Water use in the data center

As the issue of water scarcity has garnered increased attention, data centers’ water use has come into focus. This June, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in collaboration with researchers from Stanford University, Northwestern University, and Carnegie Mellon University, released a report on energy and water use by data centers (that report is the source of the 626 billion liters statistic). U.S. data centers are on track to consume 660 billion liters of water by 2020.

These water issues affect corporate pocketbooks – and investors have taken notice. As Himani Phadke, research director at the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, a non-profit that writes corporate sustainability reporting guidelines for investors, said in a recent Bloomberg article, “Operational efficiencies at data centers have a direct link to companies’ profitability and pose an increasing risk for investors in a ‘tense’ climate change environment.”

A business opportunity

Water conservation is an important responsibility. But it’s also an opportunity. As William Sarni, director and practice leader of Water Strategy at Deloitte Consulting LLP told Bloomberg, “Over the past few years, we have seen a dramatic increase of interest in water as a business risk and also as a business opportunity issue.”

Making the most efficient use of our natural resources – water and energy – has been one of the key driving forces behind the innovations at Aligned Energy. For example, Energy Metrics developed one of the first green data center dashboards for a leading Internet company, and helped Lenovo save 60-80% in power costs. Inertech continues to innovate the heat removal system that uses up to 85% less water and up to 80% less energy than a traditional cooling system.

At what cost?

Keith Klesner, Ryan Orr and Matt Stansberry, of the Uptime Institute, point out that low-water cooling systems may not be as reliable as traditional data center chiller plants. In fact, they say, low-water cooling systems may not reliable enough to secure a Tier III certification from the Uptime Institute – much less a Tier IV certification.

Indeed, reliability is a challenge with many free cooling systems, as Inertech CEO Earl Keisling pointed out recently in Data Center Frontier. “Traditional air-side free cooling is effective in some edge locations, but in many locations – where it gets too hot and/or too humid – free cooling is not effective, and water consumption surges.”

But reliability doesn’t have to come at the expense of efficiency. The Inertech system in use at Aligned Data Centers’ facilities, for example, delivers 99.9999% reliability (that’s Tier IV level reliability) and uses up to 85% less water than traditional chiller plants. (Learn how.)

Beyond direct water savings

In addition to direct consumption of water for cooling, data centers also indirectly consume water – a lot of it. In fact, even more water is used in the generation of electricity to power the data center than in cooling the data center itself.

Direct vs. indirect U.S. data center water consumption

Source: United States Data Center Energy Usage Report

So data center energy efficiency gains indirectly result in water savings (consume less energy = less energy produced = less water used in production of energy). The water savings associated with reduced energy consumption can be significant. It takes about 7.6 liters of water on average to generate 1kWh of energy – that’s water use that can be eliminated if the data center is more energy efficient. At Aligned Data Centers, we save water directly with a cooling system that uses up to 85% less water, and indirectly because the cooling system uses up to 80% less energy as well.

Bottom line

The Edison Award-winning cooling system in use at Aligned Data Centers’ facilities delivers 99.9999% reliability and uses up to 85% less water and 80% less energy than traditional cooling systems. The air-cooled adiabatic cooling system comprised of two major components: a dry fluid cooler with an indirect evaporative cooling mode, and a Chiller Heat Rejection System. It is designed to run seamlessly in full free cooling when entering air is below 55°F and partial free cooling when entering air is from 55°F to 80°F providing year-round savings of power and water.

Reducing our water consumption is a responsibility we all have as global citizens. But for data centers, it’s also a powerful opportunity to show how what’s good for business can also be good for the planet. You don’t have to pay a premium or sacrifice reliability in order to get water savings in the data center.

Aligned Energy’s CEO Jakob Carnemark and Director of Platform Services David Holub to Speak at IMN’s 7th Annual Provider Forum on Data Centers & Cloud Services Infrastructure (West)

NEW YORK, NY  October 17, 2016 – Aligned Energy, which delivers a leading integrated, sustainable technology platform that significantly reduces data center energy and water usage, increases transparency, optimizes efficiency and enhances reliability to deliver improved business outcomes, announced today that leading industry innovators Jakob Carnemark, founder and CEO of Aligned Energy, and David Holub, Director of Platform Services at Aligned Energy, will be speaking on two panels at the 7th Annual IMN Provider Forum on Financing & Investing in Data Centers & Cloud Services Infrastructure (West)in Santa Rosa, California, on October 17 and October 18.

Event Details:

Taking place at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek from October 17-18, the IMN Provider Forum on Financing & Investing in Data Centers & Cloud Services Infrastructure (West) will address the most pressing challenges faced by data center, colocation and cloud service providers. Expected to attract over 250 professionals and feature more than 65 industry experts, including some of the most prominent data center owners, tenants, investors, capital and service providers, this year’s forum will provide cutting-edge insight on the data center industry’s current political, technological and economic landscapes, while identifying how companies can best position themselves for the future.

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