A greener solution for cooling data centers

Data centers are increasingly becoming an integral part of how the world works. This is where the cloud “lives” – and the cloud increasingly underpins everything from everyday workflow in a remote or hybrid enterprise economy, to the latest games, to educational resources, to complete business models. But as the number and sophistication of data centers around the world has grown, so has the economic and environmental cost of operating such intensive data centers.

In particular, keeping hubs as cool as possible when all data stacks are powered, and therefore emitting heat at an unfortunate rate, has become a key objective – and a key sub-industry. Data center cooling technology and systems alone are expected to account for $12 billion in the global economy by 2027.

It is therefore understandable that some of the largest data center owners, such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google, have decided to locate new centers near large wind farms, so that cheaper and less harmful electricity for the environment can be used to power and cool their facilities.

Plow power

Today, the poetically named white data center in Japan has added a new, relatively green option to the array of data center cooling options: it uses snow.

If at first this option seems laughable, think again. As mentioned, the big names in the data center world are quick to locate their data centers near natural resources and technology that can turn those resources into clean, cheap cooling power. That’s why there’s a low-key wind war going on right now across the United States for control of wind power, and why increasingly, wherever there’s a large wind farm, you can bet that there will be a data center somewhere nearby. The lack of importance (for most applications, at least) of server farm location physically located

Additionally, Google already has a data center in Finland where servers are cooled by seawater fed through a cooling system, and Facebook’s server farm in Odense, Denmark uses only air. outside to stay cool – while aiming to reuse redistributed heat in local hospitals. So the idea of ​​snow-cooled servers is by no means as absurd as it might initially seem, now the concept has proven itself in Japan.

White’s data center snow cooling works by collecting snow in an isolated mound outside the building. When the servers give off heat, it slowly melts the snow. The resulting water then cools the pipes filled with antifreeze. Pumped around the center via an AC system, which keeps temperatures inside around 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

A long development process

Where the process becomes more technological is that the temperature range is controlled by controlling both the coldness of the snow and the heat of the IT exhaust.

White’s data center began experimenting with snow cooling in 2014, thanks to a grant from Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Organization (NEDO), and the use of snow has apparently already reduced the costs of data center cooling by approximately 55%. These are numbers that no major player in the data center world can afford to completely ignore. Certainly, now that its concept has proven itself, the center aims to attract companies from major cloud players to Tokyo. Compared to the physical real estate costs of using server farms in the city, the White Data Center (which is in Bibai on the northern island of Hokkaido, about 620 miles north of Tokyo) seems certain. to be able to promise lower maintenance costs with its all-natural cooling solution.

Economic viability

Naturally, snow cooling only makes economic sense in regions where snow prevails for at least most of the year. But there are regions in the United States where it could be profitable on almost all year – parts of Washington, Utah, New Hampshire and, perhaps least surprisingly, Alaska top the list of the most consistent snowfalls in the United States. And as with wind power, although unlikely to meet all of a mega-player’s energy needs, adding technology that can cut data center cooling bills by 55% data, wherever it is implemented, without significantly increasing the carbon footprint of the operation, is likely to interest these mega-players.

This could mean new, relatively clean industries in the snowy regions of the country, helping to trigger regeneration or improvement programs in areas that had too much of a single relatively undesirable product until now.

Meanwhile, the White data center aims to show the scalability of its solution, growing from just 20 server racks currently to 200 eventually. When you have snow on hand, the process should be significantly scalable worldwide. And since almost everywhere has a summer, the snow mound in the center of Japan is covered in the warmer months with an insulating coating of wood chips and earth. The fact that the snow is not intended to interact with human bodies means it is a reasonable way to maintain the mound at relatively low cost.

With data centers already responsible for around 1% of global energy demand, anything that can reduce the cost of electricity to cool batteries and serve global cloud users – while also providing runoff heat – is at least as worthy of tech giants’ attention as the wind revolution has proven to be.

Ramon J. Espinoza