Water, an evaporating resource – Does your data center drink too much?

By Perry Gliessman and Moses Jones-

Data center water consumption is an emerging sustainability challenge with an exponentially growing urgency. The ServerDome meets this challenge head-on!

The unprecedented growth of data, driven most recently by the Internet of Things (IOT) such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and associated new technologies, is being empowered and accelerated by new data transport protocols; like 5G that offers a tremendous capacity increase over older bandwidth limits.  This fuels the need for data center industry growth to accommodate the compute, data analytics, storage, and transport of this mass of “Big Data.” All of this produces increased data center power consumption, associated heat generation, and the mitigation of heat generation. This requires cooling technologies that traditionally consume enormous quantities of water proportional to the power consumed.

This increasing consumption of an invaluable and decreasing resource is no longer tolerated by responsible corporate entities or the population at large who are working to mitigate the negative human impact on the global environment. There is an urgency to address climate change and sustainability in general. In fact, current and future data center growth projects must meet increasingly stricter requirements imposed by local, regional, and global jurisdictions for power and water consumption efficiencies. This will unquestionably lead to a new type of “water war” and is driving the data center industry to completely re-think and re-design it’s infrastructure.

The Green Grid, a non-profit industry consortium of professionals and organizations collaborating to improve resource efficiency of data centers, wanted to be able to track how much water data centers were using.  They developed an important measurement known as water utilization effectiveness (WUE).  By taking the number of liters that a data center uses onsite and dividing it by the kWh used, they have developed a common metric for data center water consumption.  In 2019, they found that the average data center in the US had a WUE of 1.8 L/kWh (which means that for every kWh that the data center uses, 1.8 liters of water is also consumed).  The volume of water that most traditional data centers are using is disturbingly high because water is an essential part of the traditional and inefficient cooling strategies. Some of these high-water usage systems are air conditioners, cooling towers, misting systems, and other mechanical cooling systems. 

A ServerDome does not require any water in its primary free-air cooling strategy.  There are no air conditioners, cooling towers, chillers, or misting systems. The only time a ServerDome uses water is when supplemental cooling is required due to extreme temperatures.   In this case, the ServerDome’s extraordinary efficient air flow design uses a propriety algorithm that permits the supplemental evaporative coolers to operate at their highest efficiencies.  Since the evaporative coolers are rarely required during average climatic conditions, a ServerDome data center has an average WUE of 0.1 L/kWh in the Pacific Northwest.  If a ServerDome is located in a climate with longer term higher ambient temperatures, the WUE may increase.  However, even in climatic extremes, the WUE will likely be ten times lower than a typical data center.

To put these numbers into perspective, consider a Data Center with 3.85 MW of IT load running at 80% capacity.  Using the average WUE of 1.8 and average annualized PUE of 1.67 of a typical data center compared to a ServerDome whose WUE is 0.1 and PUE is annualized at 1.15, the annual savings in water usage of a ServerDome is significant!  

Power efficiency will always be a significant data center consideration as power will always carry a significant price tag and environmental penalty. However, as we progress towards reduction of our carbon footprint, the focus over water usage will intensify and, if steps toward better WUE are not taken, our technological growth will likely be limited by our already dwindling water supply.   

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