Water Scarcity: An overview and how it will affect Data Centers
Water Scarcity, an overview
The presence of water around IT equipment was introduced mainly back in the 1970’s, at a time when mainframes were traditionally located within offices. The mainframes were primarily situated in and around the desks where people were working and as result the room environment became a lot warmer and more uncomfortable for the personnel. The challenge to change this situation soon became apparent and that some form of cooling was required to address this increase in temperature. A solution that would meet the requirements of both the people in the organisation and the environment that the equipment needed to survive in and thus IT air conditioning was born.
In order for the personnel and IT equipment to co-exist it was deemed that a room temperature of 21°C (+/- 1°C) and an air humidity level of approximately 50% had to be achieved. This was only going to be possible using specialist air conditioning systems.
In the late 1980s and 1990s office spaces and IT rooms were becoming separated from each other and the IT rooms became more commonly recognised as a comms room/computer room (or data centers as we now know them).
Water was the cooling medium used in the air conditioning systems, these were referred to as Computer Room Air Handling ‘CRAH’ systems. Although this was situated some distance from the IT itself, water was present in the surrounding areas and allowed the room to reach the set point temperatures and humidity levels.
Since data centers became the dedicated supporting platform for IT, they have utilised water in multiple ways, from fire suppression to perimeter cooling for CRAH systems. However, we now appreciate that water is our most valuable natural resource and it needs to be used wisely. Many areas of the world are already suffering from water scarcity and this is becoming more widespread across the globe which is a major concern and obviously harmful to the human race, wildlife and the planet.
Water Scarcity, why?
To address this we need to relay some facts about water. Firstly, of the 100% of water on the planet, only 2.5% is actually only available to drink, known as ‘fresh or potable water’, with the remaining 97.5% as salt water. These statistics become rather alarming, when you consider there are over 7.8 billion people (at time of writing) on the planet, all of whom need water to survive. Of the 2.5% of fresh water, some of it is not actually available with approximately 68.9% in glaciers, 30.8% is groundwater and 0.3% is in lakes and rivers.
How does it occur?
Water scarcity occurs when the demand (due to agriculture, cities and environment) is higher than that of the available resource. Even today over ⅓ of the population lives in an area where their water supply is not enough to fulfil demand or it has been compromised. This is a massive issue and one which is happening all over the world. Based on current projections it is predicted that this will be an issue for ⅔ of the world’s population by 2025 – less than 5 years away!!
There are two types of water scarcity, physical water scarcity and economical water scarcity. Physical water scarcity is not having enough water to meet our daily needs and economical water scarcity is when human, governmental, institutional or financial capital limit or throttle access, even though water in nature is free to access the scarcity requires it to be metered out to enable a fairer distribution.
So, how do we measure water usage?
Water Usage Effectiveness ‘WUE’ is a sustainability metric created by The Green Grid in 2011 to attempt to measure the amount of water used specifically by data centers cooling their IT assets. To calculate simple WUE, a data center manager divides the annual site water usage in litres by the IT equipment energy usage in kilowatt hours (kWh). Water usage includes water used for cooling, regulating humidity and producing electricity on-site.
How can you improve this usage?
There are multiple technologies available which limit water usage, without having to resort to potentially harmful chemical solutions. For example, in order to cool the equipment efficiently and effectively, retrospectively or as a new build, without the need to redesign is to use a Rear Door Cooler the RDC. Unlike traditional CRAC (refrigeration/mechanical cooling principle) systems, the RDC removes the heat directly at the source and the air dispelled into the space is the desired room temperature. CRAC systems typically mix colder and warmer air to provide the room environment which isn’t the most efficient option.
Conventional air cooling traditionally consumes significant energy when using mechanical chillers, one way to reduce and potentially eliminate the additional energy use/wastage is by utilising adiabatic cooling. Whilst significantly improving efficiencies on one hand this exponentially increases water usage to facilitate evaporative cooling. The major downside however is the growing scarcity of potable water in certain geographical locations. RDC’s can utilise water from natural sources so as not to disrupt the availability of drinkable water in the vicinity. Sustainable natural water sources such as lakes, riverbeds, aquifers, bore holes, rainwater and even sea water. Water is not taken, polluted or removed, simply flowing around the heat exchanger and returning back to its original location, recycling at its best!
How will this affect the data center market?
Reports suggest that there are data centers which use millions of gallons of water per day to keep them cool. This along with power usage, is one of the hottest issues for data center managers, operators and owners as they try whatever they can to reduce their usage of both without affecting current and future performance.
With insight and the desire to change to more sustainable solutions, data center operators can utilise technology available today, such as ColdLogik by USystems which can reduce the amount of water usage to nearly net zero gallons of water, whilst also saving up to 93% cooling energy.
It is immoral and soon to be illegal in a lot of States, to utilize these huge amounts of water for a data center, especially when restrictions are close to being implemented in certain regions to stop the general public from using the natural resource of water due to its scarcity.
In conclusion, the ColdLogik RDC would likely save a minimum of 58% up to 100% water that would otherwise be consumed by traditional cooling methods. When looking to improve water usage with a product that is tried, tested, highly regarded, multi award winning and successfully deployed worldwide for over a decade.
By utilising Air Assisted Liquid Cooling ‘AALC’ you can effectively increase the water temperature to the point where adiabatic cooling is no longer needed, giving the best of both worlds, no excess or drinkable water wasted and better energy efficiency with a simpler site set up and requirement.