The Edge is hot, and getting hotter. But to remain effective, it needs to cool down.
Small to mid-size edge data centers are rapidly being established by cloud providers and colocation companies to deliver faster connectivity for business critical applications.
Meanwhile, network closets at branches and regional offices are becoming increasingly business critical as they provide local computing and connectivity to primary data centers and the cloud.
Cloud providers use edge data centers to build out their “blast radius”— reducing the latency between operating nodes to give their customers faster access to data. Likewise, colocation providers are hosting edge applications for enterprise businesses. In each case, the goal is an enhanced user experience, regardless of whether the user is watching live content, making a purchase, or running a district office for a large corporation.
“We work with several different segments of customers, all of which realize that the enduser experience is important,” said Ryan Hunter, director, facilities support, vXchnge. “For example, a hospital located in a tier 2 market may be able to provide better access to its customers by housing data locally instead of sending it to the cloud at a large data center. Companies realize that enduser experience is important.”
Small IT spaces, or closets, are also transforming. A July 2016 Vertiv online survey of IT, data center, and facilities professionals in North America revealed that strategic importance of small IT spaces had risen over the past two years, and that these spaces are contributing to driving company revenue and have become more strategically important. More than one quarter of respondents indicated that they would increase the number of network closets over the next year.
SHARPENING THE EDGE
While quick access to information via the edge is essential to the day-to-day operations of many organizations, keeping operational costs low is also crucial. Part of the value that edge data centers deliver to customers is affordability.
As edge facilities grow in both number and scope, focusing on physical infrastructure issues such as containing cooling costs, minimizing downtime, and providing visibility into operations are vital to providers and their customers.
Remote monitoring is equally important for manned data centers such as those operated by vXchnge. Hunter noted that while the onsite staff monitors thermal performance, this data is also made available to customers through the vXchnge customer portal.
“We allow customers to manage their own environment — everything from access control to power utilization monitoring, temperature monitoring inventory management, and even RFID,” he said. “We specialize in brand protection and we do that in a way that allows the customer to have complete visibility to their data center.”
And while on a smaller scale, it isn’t much different in the small IT space arena. The Vertiv survey respondents indicated that cooling capacity, service, and maintenance are top concerns — and that these remote locations typically also lack dedicated IT personnel, meaning that IT managers face challenges in monitoring the spaces and responding to adverse events. Reducing risks is a top goal of managers. At the same time, they want to reduce operational costs and that includes improving energy efficiency.
THE FORECAST FOR EDGE DATA CENTERS: COOL, DRY, AND HASSLE FREE
Companies are looking to edge data centers to reduce costs, speed time to market, and mitigate downtime risks. New approaches to cooling can contribute favorably to each of these goals. Edge data center managers are looking for cooling technologies that improve energy efficiency, can be easily scaled, and can be easily managed through integrated monitoring and control software.
Some edge data centers utilize chilled water cooling systems, but chilled water is not the approach of the future.
Indirect evaporative free cooling systems can both lower annual water and electricity consumptions compared with legacy systems and achieve mechanical PUEs of less than 1.2. These indirect designs lower peak power consumption through the application of new efficient heat exchanger designs, and eliminate the need to bring outside air into the data center.
Effective, efficient cooling can also be achieved without using water.
vXchnge’s Hunter cites his company’s Santa Clara, CA data center uses a chilled water system with reclaimed water. Through its focus on innovation they have now expanded using a pumped refrigerant economization system that provides both energy and water savings, continuing their strategy to drive PUE efficiencies through design and newer architectures. The sustainable waterless system — the Liebert DSE — has been approved by the State of California as a prescriptive option for economization under Title 24.
Utilizing a pumped refrigerant economization, the system enhances sustainability by consuming less energy than legacy systems and using no water. Depending on data center application and location, in some cases that energy savings can be up to 50%. At the vXchnge data center in Pittsburgh, this system reduced data center energy usage by more than 31% and a PUE improvement of 65%.
The system's economization mode is not based on a fixed outdoor temperature, but optimizes operation for outdoor ambient temperatures and IT loads to take advantage of 100% of the potential economization hours. To maximize efficiency, the system can turn off one or both of its unit compressors and instead engages the refrigerant pump, which operates with 5% of the energy used by the compressors.
The system hardware is managed by a supervisory control system that provides a single point of management for the cooling infrastructure that provides quick access to actionable data, system diagnostics, and trending conditions.
Eliminating potential points of failure, such as water piping systems, enhances reliability. Edge data centers may add capacity efficiently through a modular, scalable design with no need for additional chillers, cooling towers, or ductwork. Maintenance is also streamlined as water, outside air, and manual adjustments are eliminated.
COOLING OFF THE CLOSET
Reducing risk is a primary concern of IT managers in the small space area, as are keeping costs low and maintaining energy efficiency.
But because of the rise in density and criticality of network closets, many IT professionals are looking beyond traditional cooling solutions such as the building’s air conditioning — especially in spaces under 100 sq ft. In these spaces they are focusing on dedicated cooling systems, such as mini split ductless cooling systems, or on precision cooling systems for temperature and humidity control that operate easily with building management systems.
For monitoring, mobile apps are available that provide IT managers with remote visibility into thermal conditions inside their small edge spaces, and some apps, enable managers to track technician workflows and remotely control units when behind secure firewalls. This speeds recovery and significantly reduces downtime. Such control also provides the opportunity for predictive maintenance and reduces the need for potentially costly on-site service calls.
LIVING ON THE EDGE
It is likely that we are still in the infancy of the phenomenon we call the Edge. As IoT devices continue to proliferate and the demand for data and speed increase, it is entirely possible that even more remote and potentially smaller edge computing spaces will develop over time.
Anticipating that evolution is part of the equation. Reliable and affordable cooling solutions will be key to its success.