Rooftop sprinkler pipes keep UK data centers cool

(Bloomberg)—Some UK data centers have a simple way to avoid meltdowns during this week’s heat wave: spray water on roof-mounted air conditioning units.

“Many data centers in London will have people on the roof with hoses at the moment,” said Adrian Trevelyan, aftersales manager at Airedale International, which supplies and services cooling systems for data centers.

Small data centers in dense urban areas operating near capacity are most likely to need emergency watering during a heat wave. The spray lowers the ambient temperature around the air conditioning unit coils to ensure they continue to dissipate heat effectively, Trevelyan said. He declined to name specific companies adopting the technique, but said it was happening “within the M25 and in the city”.

Hyperscale data centers run by tech giants often use large amounts of water – Google has a deal in the US that guarantees it 1 million gallons per day to cool a data center. Due to their large size, they have room to add extra cooling capacity to deal with temperature spikes. However, they are not immune to overheating: On July 10, a power outage occurred at an Amazon Web Services data center in London due to what the company described as a “thermal event”.

The pipe approach is a “Heath Robinson solution,” said Sophia Flucker, director of data center consultancy Operational Intelligence, which mimics evaporative cooling systems installed at other facilities.

“It may get you out of a tight spot on a very hot day, but you may be shortening the life of the equipment,” she said, noting that if done in places where the water is hard, like in London, this can lead to scale buildup on equipment. Properly designed evaporative cooling systems use treated water, she said.

Outages aren’t the only risk to data centers during a heat wave, Flucker said. Many “colocation” operators, who rent capacity to third parties, face financial penalties if they do not keep the room within a contractually agreed temperature range.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

Ramon J. Espinoza