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Cooling the Heat: A Journey Through Data Center Cooling Systems

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Cooling the Heat: A Journey Through Data Center Cooling Systems


Data centers play a vital role in the digital era by facilitating the storage, processing and distribution of vast amounts of information. As our world becomes more interconnected the demand for data centers keeps rising, which calls for efficient and sustainable cooling methods. It has been noticed that 42% of a data centers energy consumption is devoted to cooling. With the growth in data storage and processing needs it is essential to find efficient and effective cooling solutions. Inadequate cooling can lead to downtime, reduced equipment lifespan and increased energy expenses. That’s why staying updated on the advancements, in data center cooling is vital to remain ahead of the curve.

Why Data Center Cooling is Important

Data centers are the backbone of modern computing landscape driving various aspects such, as social media platforms and financial institutions. However, these facilities produce an amount of heat, which can result in serious consequences if not effectively controlled. In fact, inadequate cooling can lead to a myriad of problems, including reduced efficiency, frequent instances of system downtime and even potential equipment malfunctions.

Experts in the industry have found that even a single hour of downtime can cause a sized data center to lose up to $100,000. Moreover, with an estimated cost of $9,000 per minute for data center downtime each year it becomes evident that any disruption, to operations can result in financial consequences. This is why the cooling systems and technologies employed in data centers play such a crucial role. They ensure smooth and efficient operation while minimizing the chances of downtime and maximizing uptime.

Types of Data Center Cooling Systems

When it comes to data center cooling systems, there are generally three types; air based systems, liquid based systems and hybrid systems. Each type has its set of pros and cons that need to be carefully considered during the design phase of a data center cooling system.

Air based cooling systems are the widely used type of cooling system in data centers. These systems utilize air as the cooling medium and involve the use of computer room air conditioning (CRAC) units. Air based systems are known for their simplicity and cost effectiveness in terms of installation and maintenance. However, they may not be ideal, for high density data centers that demand efficient cooling solutions.

On the side, liquid based systems utilize water or other liquids as their main cooling medium. These systems prove to be more effective than air based ones and’re particularly suitable for data centers, with high density requirements. However, it’s worth noting that they do come with added complexity and higher installation and maintenance costs.

Hybrid systems bring together air based and liquid based cooling technologies creating a balance. They offer cooling solutions for high density data centers while also being cost effective and straightforward to maintain. It’s no wonder that hybrid systems are gaining popularity in modern data centers.

Market Overview 

According to a report from Research Nester, the Data Center Cooling Market is projected to reach a value of USD 220 billion by 2035 with an estimated compound growth rate (CAGR) of around 15% between 2023 and 2035. In 2022 the data center cooling industry was valued at USD 16 billion due to the growing demand for data centers across sectors. The global expenditure on IT data centers is anticipated to reach USD 222 billion in 2023. Currently there are 8,000 data centers worldwide with around one third of them located in the United States.

Key players in the data center cooling market include Schneider Electric, Vertiv Co., STULZ GmbH, Rittal GmbH & Co. KG, and Airedale International Air Conditioning Ltd. These companies offer a range of cooling solutions, from traditional air conditioning units to more innovative liquid cooling systems. Some key players and their recent developments in market are: 

  • In April, 2022, Schneider Electric, a company specializing in the digital transformation of energy management and automation has recently unveiled its latest lineup of Uniflair Chillers. These advanced chillers, equipped with inverter screw compressors are specifically designed to cater to the cooling needs of large scale data centers. With their efficiency precise temperature control and adaptable configurations these chillers are well equipped to tackle both present and future challenges, in data center cooling.
  • In May 2022, Alibaba Cloud, a technology and innovation firm has recently unveiled its third data center in Germany. This state of the art facility offers a suite of cloud computing solutions, including storage, networking and databases. Notably the data center incorporates an approach to cooling by utilizing dry coolers and leveraging naturally cool ambient air instead of relying solely on mechanical refrigeration. This friendly method allows for over 7,000 hours of free cooling, per year.


Market Growth Drivers

  • Explosive Growth in Data Usage: The continuous growth of data usage fueled by cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, streaming videos and big data analytics plays a role, in driving the Data Center Cooling market. Between 2000 and 2023 internet usage has seen an increase of 1300%. As we reach 2023, Asia remains the region with the highest number of internet users accounting for 52% of the global population. In order to keep up with the escalating demand, data centers need to expand their capacities and invest in cooling solutions.
  • Energy Efficiency Regulations: Governments and environmental organizations around the world are implementing measures to control energy usage and decrease carbon emissions. As an example the European Union has made a commitment to enhance energy efficiency with a goal of achieving a 20% improvement in 2020 and at 32.5%, by 2030. Data centers, known for their energy consumption are facing increasing demands to adopt cooling technologies that are more energy efficient in order to comply with these regulations.
  • Rising Awareness of Sustainability: Nowadays a lot of companies are placing an emphasis on sustainability and environmentally friendly practices. It’s interesting to note that around 62% of businesses have implemented a sustainability strategy. Additionally, 68% of these companies have made the shift towards using more sustainable materials like recycled products and lower emission alternatives. In line with this trend data center operator are also joining the movement by adopting eco cooling solutions such, as free cooling, liquid cooling and renewable energy sources.

Cooling Technologies

Direct expansion cooling is a widely used option for data centers because of its efficiency and simplicity. This system works by pumping refrigerant through a compressor and evaporator coils, which absorb heat from the air and cool it before sending it into the data center. Although this method is effective it can be costly to maintain, may not be ideal for larger data centers.

Another common technique’s chilled water cooling, where water circulates through pipes and gets cooled by a chiller unit before being distributed to cooling units across the data center. Compared to expansion cooling this method is more energy efficient and can be scaled up for larger facilities. However, it does require an infrastructure of pipes and pumps making maintenance more challenging.

A newer technology called evaporative cooling that utilizes water evaporation to cool the air. With this system water is sprayed onto a surface that absorbs heat from the air and then evaporates the water resulting in air that circulates throughout the data center. This approach offers efficiency at an affordable cost but may not be suitable for areas, with high humidity levels.

Cooling System Design Considerations

When creating a cooling system for a data center there are crucial factors to keep in mind. One of the important considerations is capacity planning. The cooling system needs to be capable of handling the heat generated by the IT equipment in the data center, which can vary depending on the type and density of the equipment. It’s also essential to plan for growth and expansion so that the cooling system can accommodate additional equipment without becoming overwhelmed.

Another significant aspect to consider is redundancy. A data centers cooling system should have components to ensure uninterrupted operation even if one component fails. This includes chillers, pumps and cooling towers. Additionally, it’s essential for the design of the cooling system to include paths for air and water flow. This way if one path becomes blocked or compromised the system can still function effectively.

Lastly, energy efficiency plays a role in any data centers cooling system. Cooling often consumes an amount of energy in a data center setup; thus minimizing energy consumption has a substantial impact on operating costs. Best practices for designing an energy cooling system involve utilizing free cooling when viable optimizing airflow throughout the data center space and employing high efficiency equipment, like variable speed drives and electronically commutated (EC) fans.

Future of Data Center Cooling

The prospects for data center cooling in the future are truly thrilling and brimming with possibilities. Ground breaking advancements like immersion cooling and magnetic refrigeration present fresh avenues to cool data centers effectively all the while lowering energy usage. These remarkable innovations not enhance the overall performance of data centers but also play a crucial role, in minimizing their environmental footprint.

New technologies, like edge computing, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) are creating a demand, for cooling solutions that are both localized and efficient. For instance, In June 2022, Microsoft and Meta have followed Googles lead by incorporating AI technology to manage their data centers. This decision was prompted by the heat produced by their new tensor processing units (TPUs) which surpassed the capabilities of their previous cooling systems. With data centers becoming increasingly interconnected and decentralized there is a rising need for inventive cooling solutions to meet the growing demands of this industry.

Author’s Bio

Shalini Nagar, a content associate brings a wealth of writing experience to the table through her work. She has gained proficiency in areas such as crafting website content, writing press releases and articles, creating engaging blog posts, editing work conducting research, and designing infographics. These diverse skills have made her a rounded writer and a valuable member of the team, at Research Nester Pvt. Ltd. Her experience has honed her attention to detail, and provided her with a deep understanding of different writing formats. In her leisure time, she enjoys browsing the internet immersing herself in books and exploring her creativity through cooking endeavours.