Data centers are a lynchpin of our modern economy. Server rooms power small- to medium-sized businesses, enterprise data centers support major corporations, and server farms host cloud computing services. Keeping up with the explosive growth of digital content, big data, e-commerce, and Internet traffic is making data centers one of the fastest growing consumers of electricity in developed countries.
In fact, data centers use nearly 2% of the world's supply of electricity at any given time, and 37% of that amount is used to keep computing equipment cool1. Not only is this a drain on the power grid, but it also taxes water supply. A 15-megawatt (MW) data center can use up to 360,000 gallons of water a day2 — that’s more than half the water in an Olympic-size swimming pool.
Data center power consumption is on the rise, increasing 56% worldwide and 36% in the U.S. from 2005-20103. These substantial energy demands come at a price, and controlling operational costs in data centers has been a persistent challenge. IT systems are designed to ramp up and down based on a businesses’ use, yet cooling systems in data centers were not previously designed to do that.
Traditional data centers can incur excessive energy expenses from three main cost drivers:
- Over-building a data center
- Underutilizing the data center that has been built
- Inefficiently using cooling technology
Cost-saving energy solutions
Aligned Energy, an integrated technology platform, has developed a solution that eliminates infrastructure complexity and waste, heightens visibility and control, and improves reliability in data centers. One of Aligned Energy’s subsidiary companies, Inertech, set out to address the key drivers of cost in data centers. With 80% of a data center’s costs going towards the electrical and mechanical systems, Inertech determined that the only way to effect real change is to drive down the cost of the cooling system and electrical blocks.
Using Danfoss’ portfolio of products and application expertise, Inertech was able to develop a solution for scaling mechanical and energy infrastructure directly to servers and storage use, which has yielded enormous savings in water and electricity costs.
Evaluating cost drivers
The majority of a data center’s upfront costs are in building chiller infrastructure. The average data center is constructed to a “perceived build” based on the anticipated IT capacity. Companies try to predetermine the size of chiller plants needed to support IT, however these calculations are highly complex and difficult to accurately predict. Often, companies significantly overbuild data centers from day one, unnecessarily inflating their capital costs.
Operators of existing data centers working under this model were spending nearly 85% of their capital expense upfront, but they were applying this capital towards equipment that was going unused. These operators would start up their IT kits, and learn that they were running a much lighter load that they had built for.
Earl Keisling, CEO of Inertech, explained, “IT systems are designed, like in the financial industry, to ‘follow the sun around.’ These systems are designed to support very high loads in a given area, whether it be Hong Kong, or the London stock exchange, but have to be able to support low loads as well. The problem with the original technology — these large chiller plants — is that they only work well when they're fully loaded, because that’s what they were designed for.”
Keisling added that when data centers are operating they never draw more than 60% of the wattage listed on the server name plate. “Therein lay the problem — that you designed a system for servers, and your utilization is only a fraction of what that name plate is.”
If companies overbuild their cooling systems, or install products they aren’t using, it is both operationally and fiscally inefficient. The lack of a supply chain model that scales products to requirements has fueled the perpetual repetition of this costly practice.
Collaboration between Danfoss and Inertech yields innovative solution
Using Danfoss products, Inertech’s patented model has been able to reduce 80% to 85% the cost of starting a data center on day one. On the operational side, because Inertech’s cooling systems are 90% more efficient than a traditional chiller plant, it is able to drastically cut the electrical infrastructure that supports that data center for its customers.
Inertech did this by building a platform of small modular cooling blocks that can be scaled to actual IT use. It worked with Danfoss to identify critical components of the Danfoss portfolio that would enable Inertech to maximize efficiencies for energy and water use. The system design supports data center needs in a much more cost-effective delivery model than a traditional chiller plant, as the smaller platforms can be installed exactly when they are needed, or ‘just-in-time,’ without interrupting IT online operations.
Inertech’s cooling cycles were designed to be delivered modularly, both in the equipment, as well as in the physical infrastructure, enabling data centers to scale over time. Working in a supply chain of four to six weeks, Danfoss and Inertech deploy and hook up pre-assembled modular units to data centers based on their actual IT use, which has resulted in energy efficiency of 80% to 90% vs. a normal chiller plant.
“We have utilized Danfoss’ [Turbocor™ compressor and heat exchangers] in our CDUs [cooling distribution units] and in our Cactus Units,” said Keisling. “The Turbocor™ compressor we feel is by far the most efficient compressor that's on the market, and it fits very well with the just-in-time delivery and also the ability to go from very low loads to very high loads.”
A traditional 10 MW data center would typically have 20 MW of power in order to have sufficient power to get the chiller plant back online in the event of a power outage. Modularizing the system with small Danfoss Turbocor™ blocks resulted in very low in rush, only using the compressors as needed, which reduced the electrical infrastructure required from 100% overhead down to 15%. This makes Inertech’s solution more reliable than any other system currently on the market, and less risky to data centers.
Inertech’s Cactus Units use about 80% to 85% less water than a traditional chiller plant. This particular unit also affords data centers the ability to run dry, providing added flexibility to compensate for the atmosphere and surrounding conditions.
“We’ve created efficiencies in both energy and space,” said Marcus Moliteus, vice president of sales and engineering at Inertech. “By doing that we can provide our clients with a modular chiller plant or cooler solution in 350 to 500 kW modular blocks. We’ve worked closely with Danfoss to reduce amperage on the Turbocor™ compressor the way we apply it in our patented cycle, and by doing so have created efficiencies beyond what the original product intended.”
Separating the chiller plant into small modular blocks has enabled Inertech to operate each of the individual circuits to very high efficiency. When it comes to data centers, reliability is paramount. Inertech’s “use” model is an innovative approach to addressing overbuilding, underuse and inefficient cooling infrastructure in many data centers today. When prefabricated modular units are delivered to site for clients, “there is no on-site installation,” said Moliteus. “You literally land and connect onsite, and using the variable frequency drives (VLT™ Drives) helps in reducing the amount of energy and wiring on site. It allows clients to have quicker deployments in places where it is harder to find labor, as data centers can be in remote places. This is also beneficial because there is zero shut down time, so it doesn’t impact the running data center.”
The collaboration has enabled Inertech to create multiple efficiencies, reduce the overall environmental footprint and drive down costs for its customers.
Lenovo case study
Inertech used Danfoss’ solutions to help the world’s largest personal computer (PC) manufacturer, Lenovo, with its data center challenges. When Lenovo purchased IBM’s server and PC divisions, the company needed to rapidly migrate IBM’s testing gear and laboratories over onto its platform.
“When you come out with new technology in the data center business, the key and most important aspect in all of it has to be reliability,” said Keisling. “Inertech had to develop and use products that used best-in-class equipment in order to convince engineers and builders that this is for real.”
Despite getting involved with Lenovo late in the migration process, Inertech and Danfoss were able to quickly develop solutions for two locations, a high-density lab in Santa Clara, CA, and a facility in Raleigh, NC.
With California facing one of the most severe droughts on record, Inertech devised a solution for Santa Clara that was able to operate the systems dry for most of the year, consuming 80% less water than a typical chiller system.
Both facilities now use 80% to 90% less power on the cooling infrastructure due to Inertech’s design, powered by Danfoss compressors, heat exchangers, and drives.
Many of the world’s data centers moving into co-locations to control costs. In November 2015, Aligned Data Centers opened the first 300,000-sq-ft data center with a power capacity of 30 MW in Plano, TX, with another site slated for Phoenix in 2016 that will add another 65 MW of capacity. These facilities offer a unique responsive data center model in the colocation space that is designed for real world server usage.
This is a game changer in the market. Using reliable products and expertise from Danfoss has enabled Aligned Energy and Inertech to create smart solutions that improve efficiency and lower energy costs in an industry that powers the future.