How Climate Change is Changing How We Keep Servers Cool

Data centers are poised to lead the pack and set the standard for what fundamental climate change initiatives should look like

By the end of the century, scientists predict that global temperatures could rise by as much as ten degrees Fahrenheit. Even in a ‘best-case’ scenario, in which temperatures only rise by two degrees, the effects on entire populations and ecosystems would still be egregious.

On a global scale, we are already experiencing a heightened intensity of large-scale natural disasters, as 500-year floods are occurring multiple times in a decade and annual wildfires have grown by 800%, among other unprecedented events.

The human impact is clear, particularly for the generation born after 2000, and is garnering action from leaders everywhere. However, the reality is that it will take dedicated effort from large enterprises—not just political or community leaders—to change the trajectory of our future. Of the many enterprise-level industries, data centers are poised to take the lead for what a fundamental climate change initiative looks like.

How Data Centers Can Lead Energy Innovation 

A few factors contribute to making the data center industry particularly fitting to adopt widespread changes which can usher in greater efficiencies. To truly understand why data centers are capable of becoming a poster child for climate leadership, one must understand where the bar is currently set:

Worldwide, data centers consume between 3% and 5% of global electricity, and this number will only increase as our day-to-day lives depend more and more on internet traffic through data centers. Further, the industry produces carbon emissions rivaling the airline industry at more than 200 million metric tons. In China alone, data centers produce the same volume of carbon dioxide emissions as 21 million cars. 

However, that’s only half of the story, and it should come with a caveat, as many of the data centers contributing to these staggering numbers are legacy facilities destined for decommissioning or located in markets where EPA regulations are relaxed, not enforced, or non-existent altogether.

In the past two years, modern data centers have been striving to develop innovative energy-efficient platforms to streamline their data center operations while shepherding in sustainability initiatives. Many data center operators and their enterprise users have detailed their sustainability commitments, encouraging the use of 100% renewable power. If renewable energy is not directly available, then they work to offset the environmental impact through renewable credits elsewhere. 

Additionally, as utility costs rise and increased quantities of power are required with enterprise and cloud computing, users are seeking ways to better cool IT environments. Of the factors that contribute to data’s energy consumption, cooling accounts for the largest part, at up to 40% of total usage. 

While striving to minimize their PUE, end users are also looking to maximize their compute densities. This desire has caused the industry to reevaluate cooling trends, making cooling the lowest hanging fruit for reducing energy costs and, by extension, carbon emissions. 

Thinking Differently About Cooling

Traditional cooling methods can be notoriously inefficient, particularly if they’re outdated, undersized, or located in warmer, humid climates.  There are a couple of ways to improve cooling efficiency that can boast sustainability and decrease a data center’s carbon footprint. For example, utilizing closed-loop chilled water systems typically uses the same water intake of two standard households, substantially decreasing the environmental impact compared to large water towers.  In other instances, evaporative cooling (in some climates) dramatically reduces wet-bulb temperature and decreases the amount of energy required to cool IT environments.   

The above-mentioned tactics have been standardized by many data center operators to minimize their operational PUE, however, others have taken additional steps to further drive this number lower. That’s where immersion cooling comes in. Within immersion cooling, there are two different approaches: single-phase and dual-phase. Single-phase can require more energy to actually move heat away from servers; on the other hand, dual-phase leverages evaporation to move heat without any active circulation.

Regardless of whether it’s single-phase or dual-phase, immersion cooling represents enormous gains in energy efficiency for data center cooling. 

By utilizing immersion cooling, data centers can reduce their power usage by up to 36% and cut back carbon emissions by three tons per KW annually.

Next Steps for Cooling

The trajectory of data creation, consumption, and processing is not slowing down anytime soon. The launch of 5G, the increasing tsunami of IoT devices, the growth of AI and voice tech and the explosion of blockchain applications will all contribute to data’s exponential curve. These are innovations that will contribute to growth in global GDP and facilitate crucial gains in everything from healthcare to agriculture. Gains in server cooling efficiencies are absolutely necessary to help data centers mitigate their impact on climate change.

Immersion cooling represents the cutting-edge innovation that can empower enterprises to lead the way forward in climate change conversations. It presents drastic reductions in energy consumption, carbon emissions, and cost, along with gains in efficiency. Plus, it can improve the lifetime of hardware assets by reducing corrosion from airflow, along with exposure to dust and humidity.

Skybox is proud to be leading the way in immersion cooling. In fact, one customer in Houston, DownUnder Geosolutions, has utilized these cooling systems to drive the world’s largest supercomputer, ‘Bubba,’ all while operating one of the greenest data centers in the world. We believe that immersion cooling represents the next phase of data center cooling, a phase in which data centers embrace both dramatic operating cost savings and a positive impact on the environment. If you’re interested in learning more about our dual-phase immersion cooling approach,get in touch with us today to learn more or request pricing.