Cooling solutions for greener data centers in Asia Pacific
By Victor Ng | Friday, February 2, 2024, 10:26 AM Asia/Singapore
How innovations in cooling technology can help the region’s data centers address environmental concerns.
According to Cushman & Wakefield’s latest Asia Pacific Data Center Update, emerging markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand are growing rapidly and on track to increase their data center operational capacity by over 200% in the next five to seven years.
With growing awareness and legislation for environmental issues, the rapid growth of data center capacity in the region is a matter of grave concern, as data centers contribute significantly to climate change due to their high demand for energy and carbon footprint.
Innovations, especially in cooling technology, are sorely needed to help address these data center concerns. DigiconAsia discusses the issues, challenges and solutions with Andrew Harrop, Global Director, Technical Applications, Armstrong Fluid Technology.
What are some key cooling innovations today that are helping data center operators address the need for sustainable alternatives?
Andrew Harrop (AH): Cooling solutions of the past were relatively simple. Data centers were typically smaller, consumed less energy, and generated less heat as they were primarily occupied by low-density IT equipment. As such, they could be cooled with traditional air cooling methods, such as raised floor system or free cooling, which uses outside air to cool the data center.
Today, data center cooling has evolved to become more complex and sophisticated, with solutions such as direct-to-chip cooling, microconvective liquid cooling, and two-phase immersion cooling.
Direct-to-chip cooling can achieve up to a 45% reduction in cooling power consumption as compared to air cooling by selectively cooling high-power components such as the Central Processing Unit (CPU).
Microconvective liquid cooling decreases the amount of airflow needed by up to 90% as compared to air cooling, and can reportedly save up to 8% in energy costs and up to 90% in water costs per year. On the other hand, two-phase immersion cooling is over 90% more energy-efficient than air cooling.
Additionally, as the need for more sustainable data centers increases, more organizations are using artificial intelligence (AI) to develop modern data center cooling systems. AI, coupled with automation, IoT (Internet of Things), and ML (machine learning), can increase energy efficiency through predictive maintenance and automated processes.
AI-powered algorithms can also predict cooling demand by analyzing past power consumption data and optimizing the cooling system accordingly. Additionally, IoT sensors can pre-emptively detect potential problems through real-time system performance monitoring.
AI-enabled tools also allow operators to improve their power usage effectiveness (PUE) through the continuous analysis of sensor data to identify optimal operating conditions to maintain them. This real-time control of cooling equipment through sensors and ML reduces the energy required for cooling, thereby cutting costs and carbon emissions.
How can data center operators leverage intelligent cooling systems to mitigate the environmental impacts of data centers through a demand-based intelligent control solution?
AH: A demand-based, intelligent control solution works by using sensors to monitor the temperature and humidity of the data center. The system uses this data to determine how much cooling is needed to keep the data center within its desired temperature and humidity range. It may program the appropriate number of chillers and cooling towers in use, or adjust the speed of fans and pumps to increase or decrease airflow based on the current temperature and humidity.
The solution can also seamlessly integrate with other brands of chillers, pumps, and automation systems, enabling data center operators to have an integrated view and control over all the cooling systems in use.
Armstrong’s Design Envelope 4300 Pumps with Suction Guides & Flo-Trex Vales (SG/FTV) is an example of such a solution. It is a pipe-mounted UL 778 pumping unit with intelligent controls that directly saves energy compared to current, best in class, PID/sensor operated. This decrease in energy consumption translates into reduced operational greenhouse gas emissions.
The Design Envelope solution with SG/FTV ensures a well-integrated working system, not only in terms of hydraulic performance but also in terms of electrical consumption and system control. It can be used across most applications, including HVAC-system pumping and control, general-purpose pumping, and industrial or process pumping and control.
How do data centers in the equatorial regions in the Asia Pacific (APAC) harness more efficient cooling systems in spite of the regional geographical and climatic constraints?
AH: The hot and humid climate of equatorial regions in APAC restricts the use of free-cooling, as it requires the outside air temperature to be cooler than the internal temperature of the data center. As such, countries in the region rely heavily on innovative, energy-efficient, and sustainable cooling measures such as liquid cooling and evaporative cooling instead.
In the Philippines, data centers leverage evaporative cooling systems that use cold water instead of air. This method uses a liquid-to-air energy exchanger, in which water is cooled as it evaporates through a membrane separation layer. The cold water is then used to cool the air inside the data center to maintain optimal temperature of the server. Separately, there has been the development of thermal management solutions, where cooling systems provide targeted cooling to remove heat from servers directly. The systems also recycle and redeploy the waste heat discharged by servers in a phase change cycle.
In Singapore, the burgeoning data center market is expected to exceed 1GW of energy consumption by 2023. This is in part due to the high ambient temperatures and humidity. To overcome these challenges, data centers are increasingly turning to more efficient cooling systems. For instance, our team supplied a global hyperscale cloud service provider (CSP) with eight DE 4300 pumps with SG/FTV, four 110kW primary chilled water pumps, and four 150kW secondary chilled water pumps for their data centers in Singapore. The installation of these pumps was done rapidly and implemented in the shortest possible time, due to our integrated intelligent controls that allow for fast and easy commissioning.
The installation of Armstrong pumps at data centers in Singapore is a good example of how data centers in equatorial regions can harness more efficient cooling systems despite geographical and climatic constraints.
What should data centers in the region do to prepare for the future, with growing environmental issues amid widespread digital transformation?
AH: Data centers are classified from Tier 1 to 4, in accordance with factors such as uptime guarantee and redundancy levels. The APAC region has a high concentration of Tier 4 data centers, which are the most complex and have concurrent cooling, electrical and control circuits that serve as to create resilience and allow for redundant components. Tier 4 data centers come at a high operating and environmental cost because they require more equipment and infrastructure than lower-tier data centers, leading to higher energy consumption and heat generation.
As the world transitions to a clean energy economy, there is a pressing need to build more sustainable and future-proof data centers. In June 2023, Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Agency (IMDA) launched a new sustainability standard for data centers in tropical settings. This standard encourages data centers to increase their operating temperatures in order to save energy. For every 1 degree Celsius increase in operating temperature, data centers can save between 2% and 5% of their energy consumption. Data center operators can use this IMDA standard as a guide to evaluate their existing cooling solutions, and potentially upgrade or modify their solutions to comply with the standard and address their environmental impact.
Ultimately, data center owners and operators need to continue exploring the latest available solutions that can enable them to reduce energy consumption while maintaining efficient operations. A key element would be to implement cooling solutions that are designed to operate at high efficiency, even in the most demanding conditions, and are able to deliver the highest level of performance, ensuring that data center equipment is properly cooled and protected.
It is also essential for them to partner with a solutions provider that comes with a proven track record of providing reliability and long service life for data centers. A strong provider will be able to offer end-to-end solutions and a comprehensive suite of services to help data centers optimize their cooling systems while meeting business and environmental needs.