Engineering tomorrow revolutionizes data center energy usage

Monday, 8 August, 2016

A lynchpin of our modern economy, data centers demand the highest levels of security, reliability, and uptime. Server rooms power small- to medium-sized businesses, enterprise data centers support major corporations, and server farms host cloud computing services. Keeping up with the explosive growth of digital content, big data, e-commerce, and Internet traffic is making data centers one of the fastest growing consumers of electricity in developed countries.

In fact, data centers use nearly two percent of the world's supply of electricity at any given time, and 37 percent of that amount is used to keep computing equipment cool. Not only is this a drain on the power grid, but it also taxes water supply. A 15-MW data center can use up to 360,000 gallons of water a day — more than half the water in an Olympic-size swimming pool. 

Data center power consumption is on the rise, increasing 56 percent worldwide and 36 percent in the United States from 2005-2010. These substantial energy demands come at a price, and controlling operational costs in data centers has been a persistent challenge. IT systems are designed to ramp up and down based on a businesses’ use, yet cooling systems in data centers were not previously designed to do that. 

Traditional data centers can incur excessive energy expenses from three main cost drivers:

  • Over-building a data center; 
  • Underutilizing the data center that has been built; 
  • Inefficiently using cooling technology. 

Cost-saving energy solutions 

Aligned Energy, an integrated technology platform, has developed a solution that eliminates infrastructure complexity and waste, heightens visibility and control, and improves reliability in data centers. One of Aligned Energy’s subsidiary companies, Inertech, set out to address the key drivers of cost in data centers. With 80 percent of a data center’s costs going toward the electrical and mechanical systems, Inertech determined that the only way to effect real change is to drive down the cost of the cooling system and electrical blocks. 

Using Danfoss’ portfolio of products and application expertise, Inertech was able to develop a solution for scaling mechanical and energy infrastructure directly to servers and storage use, which has yielded enormous savings in water and electricity costs. 

Evaluating cost drivers 

The majority of a data center’s upfront costs are in building chiller infrastructure. The average data center is constructed to a “perceived build” based on the anticipated IT capacity. Companies try to predetermine the size of chiller plants needed to support IT; however, these calculations are highly complex and difficult to accurately predict. Often, companies significantly overbuild data centers from day one, unnecessarily inflating their capital costs. 

Operators of existing data centers working under this model were spending nearly 85 percent of their capital expense upfront, but they were applying this capital toward equipment that was going unused. These operators would start up their IT kits and learn that they were running a much lighter load than they had built for. 

Earl Keisling, CEO of Inertech, explained that, “IT systems are designed, like in the financial industry, to ‘follow the sun around.’ These systems are designed to support very high loads in a given area, whether it be Hong Kong or the London stock exchange, but have to be able to support low loads as well. The problem with the original technology is that they only work well when they're fully loaded, because that’s what they were designed for.” 

Keisling added that when data centers are operating they never draw more than 60 percent of the wattage listed on the server name plate. “Therein lies the problem — that you designed a system for servers, and your utilization is only a fraction of what that name plate is.” 

If companies overbuild their cooling systems or install products they aren’t using, it is both operationally and fiscally inefficient. The lack of a supply chain model that scales products to requirements has fueled the perpetual repetition of this costly practice. 

Collaboration between Danfoss and Inertech yields innovative solution 

Using Danfoss products, Inertech’s patented model has been able to reduce 80-85 percent of the cost of starting a data center on day one. On the operational side, because Inertech’s cooling systems are 90 percent more efficient than a traditional chiller plant, it is able to drastically cut the electrical infrastructure that supports that data center for its customers. 

Inertech did this by building a platform of small modular cooling blocks that can be scaled to actual IT use. It worked with Danfoss to identify critical components of the Danfoss portfolio that would enable Inertech to maximize efficiencies for energy and water use. The system design supports data center needs in a much more cost-effective delivery model than a traditional chiller plant, as the smaller platforms can be installed exactly when they are needed, or ‘just-in-time,’ without interrupting IT online operations.

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Video: Inertech yields enormous savings

Using Danfoss’ portfolio of products and application expertise, Aligned Energy and Inertech developed a solution for scaling mechanical and energy infrastructure directly to servers and storage use, which has yielded enormous savings in water and electricity costs.