The evolution of datacenter design

What is it that clients want from a datacenter? Well, that’s entirely dependent on the client. Connectivity and uptime are always important to every customer, and any service has to come at the right price. The ecological impact and desire to be carbon neutral is also a key factor for a client’s choice of datacenter. There is an array of eco-friendly datacenters where power usage effectiveness (PUE) is decreasing rapidly, but the industry average is still around 2.0.

 

The problem is most datacenters are old, and updating these buildings is costly and complicated for both the datacenter and its clients.  But new build datacenters are introducing more and more innovative design to help reduce PUE, a consequential fall out cost for the client. Innovative design and investment in research and development is vital for the industry.  Here are a few things to look out for if you’re in search of a new, sustainable datacenter.

ADIABATIC COOLING

Datacenters require continual cooling, and this level of electricity consumption is the main source of power within the buildings.  New buildings and developed datacenters often use a variety of cooling methods, with adiabatic cooling systems being one popular choice to decrease energy consumption and increase efficiency.  An adiabatic process, in scientific terms, is one where the net heat transfer to or from the working fluid is zero, meaning energy lost through heat loss is zero.  It is a highly efficient process.  Adiabatic cooling is typically only required when the outside air temperature exceeds 24 Celsius. In countries such as the Netherlands where external temperatures rarely exceed 24 Celsius, outside air does not require regulating for data center cooling.

 

But how does it work?  The principle is based on cooling outside air upon entry to the datacenter or module rather than traditional cooling methods, which chill entire rooms.  Air enters a datacenter from the outside and is forced through a filter.  The surface of this filter is wet and as the air passes through, the water evaporates, cooling the air in the process.

 

Optimum temperatures within a datacenter are between 24 and 29 degrees Celsius.  However, only the servers need to be cooled and so modern datacenters use cool corridors to ensure only the space required is cooled rather than the entire datacenter, thereby increasing operational efficiency.

 

Designing these modules and cooling facilities in this way means that the electricity used to keep a datacenter cool is minimal.

 

MODULAR BUILDING

‘Modular’ building has been the datacenter buzzword for last year now, and describes large, portable prefabricated datacenters designed for rapid and cost effective deployment to better meet the flexibility demands and energy efficiencies of the ever cost-conscious client. These first generation datacenter containers as they were called (1.0) have fuelled the modular approach and were the first steps towards satisfying market expectations. These large 20 or 40 ft. ‘1.0 version’ modules come in a variety of forms and are available with or without servers. The popular, pre-installed option in particular, allows for anywhere up to 2,500 servers. This ‘building block’ approach has been typically adopted by heavy users such as Microsoft and Google, which opt for pre-installed servers. Early modular data centers without pre-installed servers however are more commonly used for rental and emergency solutions. Over time these building blocks grew into a technique that today known as modular building.

 

Each building block is fitted with its own, independent cooling system consisting of chilling, ventilating or air-conditioning devices where appropriate. Modular datacenters (2.0) these days follow similar lines to the prior format but vastly scale the principle upwards to full facility level; making it the most efficient datacenter model available that meets market demand.

 

From a cost perspective, a business’ physical capital expenditure is typically rigid. Office space, for example, is a costly and serious consideration in terms of physical expansion to support business growth. In the digital asset space, modular expansion rationalises capital expenditure, offering a more cost-effective approach parallel to demand. This in turn reduces the required upfront investment to release capital for reinvesting back into the business.  Resources can be managed on a demand basis, meaning that the organisation is only using what it requires at that given time.

 

Popularity of the modular model predominantly revolves around its cost-saving benefits; however, we are helping our customers realise other, more practical implications.

 

Businesses typically consider convenience as a key factor in the decision-making process, as it is usually intrinsically linked to cost. However, modular datacenters address this factor by reducing construction time from years to a matter of months, enabling expansion to be implemented when needed. The new module can be selected to meet specific criteria such as capacity, efficiency and so on.

 

Gradual modular expansion in line with growth inherently ensures the datacenter is running the latest and most innovative technology. IT lifecycles within a typical datacenter see server replacement adhering to an average 3 year refresh cycle, with building facilities lasting slightly longer at around 10 years. Entire sections of the datacenter can therefore be, in time, simply replaced with next-generation technologies for minimal disruption to operations, as data can be quickly transferred to another module within the current datacenter rather than to a remote backup site.

 

Modular expansion enables greater business control over IT and cost management with expansion being implemented parallel to customer demand. Datacenter providers such as EvoSwitch currently incorporate the modular model into the construction and expansion of its datacenters to ensure it meets customer demand on a dynamic basis. The key driver, as with most providers, is to reduce overheads and upfront investment which EvoSwitch is then able to pass directly onto its customers. Modular datacenter options are enabling providers to be more flexible and therefore better able to meet the demands of their cost-conscious customers in this still struggling economy.

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