Connectivity and data drive modern economies, with the demand for digital solutions only set to grow. At the same time, increasing awareness and con-cern about climate change means data centres are under attack for their en-ergy use and high-cost operations.
In response, AECOMs Andrew Williamson, Technical Director and electrical specialist; explores innovative approaches to modernise data centres and enhance their sustainability.
The need to reduce emissions is at an all-time high. Currently, electronics account for about five per cent of total global energy usage, with the ICT sector predicting it will use around 20 per cent of the worlds electricity by 2025, contributing up to 5.5 per cent of global carbon emissions.
As technology advances and a billion more people come online in developing countries, that figure is likely to rise even higher, potentially hitting up to 14 per cent by 2040, as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and smart solutions, such as driverless cars, becoming part of our everyday lives.
All of this intensifies the power burden on data centres, which already consume over two per cent of the worlds electricity. Many data centres are designed with considerable redundancy to enhance uptime and availability, while handling potential peak loads that have yet to be experienced building significant inefficiency into the facilities.
A Two-Fold Solution
There are actions data centre owners and occupiers can take now to increase their sustainability and secure a greener future.Firstly; where possible switching to renewable energy sources, including battery energy storage instead of combustion-based backup generation for short-term resilience. Secondly; modernising infrastructure to improve the energy-efficiency of servers, storage devices and other ICT equipment.
The benefits of modernised data centres
Upgrading legacy installations is an effective way to increase capacity without footprint increases, provided it can be achieved in an energy-efficient manner. It also offers other crucial long-term benefits, such as strengthening competitiveness, reliability, safety, flexibility, environmental integration, and security and monitoring.
For example, modernised data centres are better equipped to minimise downtime and respond to incidents, via the careful design of the redundancy and resilience of power supplies and critical mechanical systems. Through modular and scalable design, they can respond more effectively to changing customer needs and limit operating expenses. Power costs directly influence decisions to locate data centres, so accurately estimating the price of power both now and in the future is vital for modern facilities.
In addition, with increasing processing power comes an increased fire risk. modern data centres are equipped with fire detection and prevention systems and have effective evacuation and rescue built into the layout.Using advanced technologies for cooling and heat recovery, modern data centres are better able to integrate into their community environments. Studying and redesigning using analysis of factors, such as airflow, heat propagation, audible noise, and electromagnetic compatibility is a key component of any upgrading initiative.
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5 Core Steps to Modernise your Data Centre
Working with clients, weve identified the following five essential steps to upgrade smarter, faster and better:
1) Mobilise an Effective Project Team
The project team needs to include all relevant stakeholders from inside the organisation, as well as professional partners with experience in several key areas. These include finance and economics, architecture, planning and consenting, mechanical and electrical systems engineering, and utility connections, such as electric power, district heating, potable and wastewater. An integrated, multi-disciplinary team will deliver a holistic design, which does not have built-in inefficiencies due to design margins at the interfaces between different components and sub-systems.
2) Consider your Options
There is no universally applicable process for deciding how to modernise a data centre. With many possible solutions available, its important that the project team evaluate their options carefully during the planning stage to make sure they select the more effective, value-led approach for their facility. Analysis and simulation tools such as integrated safety-in-design, computational fluid dynamics, electro-magnetic transient simulations, thermodynamic models, and Monte Carlo reliability, availability and maintainability simulations are available to support this process, quantifying reliability and resilience, safety risks and energy savings potential, along with a range of impacts on the surrounding area.
3) Build a Strategically Focused Business Case
Although financial and economic analysis is an important part of the optioneering and planning phases, to help build a strong business case for modernisation, other factors also need to be considered. Alongside cost savings and return on investment, strategic factors, including brand-building, local community acceptance, future-proofing, and positioning in developing power and energy markets, and the so-called triple-bottom-line framework, which measures social and ecological impacts as well as economic impacts, must also be included.
4) Plan and Deliver
Each component of the modernised data centre must be designed considering all interfaces and possible conflicts. Sophisticated tools, including BIM, finite-element analysis and numerical integration simulation solutions, can assess aspects, such as fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, electrical transient performance, electromagnetic compatibility, audible noise and arc flash risk. Our team uses these tools in planning, designing and delivering data centres for major global hyper-scalers and colocation providers to mitigate risks upfront and focus attention where needed as early as possible.
5) Continually Validate Results and Refine Operational Procedures
Rigorous and objective assessments of the real-world performance are often neglected in the euphoria of completing a project. Measuring energy savings, environmental effects and impacts on nearby uses of shared utilities are often required for regulatory approvals. they in turn, also inform improvements to operational procedures, which can lead to further savings across the whole project.
Unlocking Value and Efficiency
By integrating the engineering and analysis function into a single project organisation, our team has worked to strengthen the optioneering, planning and delivery stages of datacentre modernisation projects.
For us, interaction and optimisation between sustainability engineering, utility connection designs, mechanical and electrical engineering, and a broad range of technical and environmental functions is key to unlocking value, which can be difficult to achieve when you use discrete, specialist scientists and engineers.
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