Industry Leaders Explore the Use of Novel Economizer Techniques to Reduce Cooling Costs as Compute Densities Raise Heat Quotients

As energy consumption in the data center has come under increasing scrutiny, the industy’s most innovative companies have continued to explore new ways to reduce power usage. According to the DOE, a typical 125,000 foot data center consumes $3 million worth of energy per year, and data centers as a group account for nearly 3% of total US energy consumption.(i)  Among the most energy-hungry devices in data centers are the cooling units that keep the data center operating in an acceptable temperature range. An increasingly common approach to this challenge is supplementing normal mechanical cooling with a “free cooling” method (airside or waterside economizers). 

Planning for airside or waterside economization starts with site selection and facility planning. This means identifying locations where climatic conditions lend themselves to the use of systems of this nature to supplement more traditional mechanical systems. In one recent study performed for a client, we identified both airside AND waterside solutions that could provide a minimum of 50% systems economizer usage throughout the year. One of the world's leading technology companies implemented a novel “chicken coop” design in an upstate NY location that was selected based on annual temperature patterns and prevailing winds off the Great Lakes, resulting in a facility that requires supplemental cooling for as little as one week per year!

Many air-handler and water-cooled chiller systems reviewed for our clients have been in use for many years, in one form or another, and have tested track records. In evaluating technologies appropriate for data center use, reliability and proven performance can weigh as heavily as new innovation, since failures in operation can have large-scale impacts. However, continuing innovation in heat wheel technology is opening the door to wide array of novel implementation in airside economization. At the same time, growing acceptance of direct cooling technology in high-density rack designs makes a number of waterside economization techniques attractive, as well. 

In evaluating the appropriateness of these strategies for clients, BRUNS-PAK engineers assess:  

    • Purchase costs
    • Installation costs
    • Building impacts
    • Operating costs

These result in an economic model that helps us assess the best-of-breed options for each installation. In evaluating operating costs, site selection is again a major consideration since economizers must be rated based on both the percentage of the year they can be employed and the efficiency rate at which they perform. While there are generally cool climate strategies, the approach may have applicability in a wide range of markets when heat density rises, since operating savings can quickly defray front-side costs.

The Bottom Line

When planning a data center project, energy consumption is undoubtedly a major decision lever in all design and engineering decisions. As one of the most significant contributors to energy use, alternative cooling strategies should be given strong consideration in all elements of the strategic plan process — from site selection through equipment purchase and installation. BRUNS-PAK’s experienced team provides you with a structure approach to planning and implementing both airside and waterside economization strategies that will help you maximize the value of these approaches in your final design plan.

(i) Fehrenbacher, Katie. "Yahoo's Chicken Coop Inspired Green Data Center." Online. 9/19/2010

CFD Modeling

BRUNS-PAK engineers perform careful analysis of planned data center configuration as part of evaluating best-practices for heat dissipation, including the use of airside economization techniques.

  Yahoo Lockport, NY Data Center

This novel data center design leverages unique climate patterns in an upstate NY location to save on energy costs.