I came across an interesting article the other day that discussed the advancement in data centre technologies, highlighting that the rapid pace of change has enabled those of us in the industry to learn a lot from what worked and, importantly, what did not.
Information technology is an industry experiencing huge growth and innovation is its beating heart. The computing infrastructure that underpins the services of enterprises and the internet are all located in data centres. Each new computer model can do more than the last, but at the expense of more electricity and generated heat. The heat comes from the computers’ CPU; nearly every watt of electricity that goes into a computer generates a watt of heat.
To give you an idea of how much heat is generated, a domestic oven typically uses about 2kWh. A rack of data centre computers (servers) new in 2015 will generate ten times that – (20kWh) 24 hours a day. A large data centre of such servers might generate 10MW of heat every hour. That’s equivalent to 5,000 ovens.
Part of the job of a data centre is to take the heat away from the computers. Across the industry we have learnt a lot about how not to do it. Traditionally, the industry has cooled data centres using refrigeration technologies, but this can be like an oven in reverse, using as much electricity to cool as the IT itself uses – to extend the analogy, 25,000 2kW air-conditioning units. This is obviously wasteful, and the environmental impact of the IT industry, including data centres is a concern to us all.
At Ark we decided it was not enough to navel gaze at what we had collectively learnt in the data centre industry. It was time to look elsewhere at other industries, and see what lessons they had learnt.
The oven analogy is still useful. Industrial kitchens set up to feed thousands of people in one sitting don’t use refrigeration to get rid of heat, they do the industrial equivalent of opening the window in our kitchen at home. At Ark, we do something similar: We use an invention that mixes waste heat with outside air to recycle the energy and bring the cold UK air up to the temperature that modern servers expect to intake.
Careful and considered air management is hugely important for infection control in hospital operating theatre and intensive care units. Traditionally air management in data centres has not been great. There is so much heat involved that it has been akin to working in a wind tunnel, a freezing cold wind tunnel when combined with refrigeration. Cold windy operating theatres are not a feature of our hospitals, another lesson to learn for data centres.
The revelation that other industries have something to share does not stop there. Ark innovatively brings a suite of lessons learnt to its data centres. Industrial logistics, assembly line processes and modular construction have reduced two-to-five year building construction times down to under four months, allowing Ark to build just ahead of demand and incorporate the latest technologies as it goes.
We’ve also drawn on experiences from the utility sector when it comes to billing, only paying for what you actually use and contracting using incentivised design and build framework agreements.
In short, learning, thinking out of the box and doing things differently – and better – is second nature to us at Ark. You can borrow a lot of clever ideas from other industries, and that’s what we, and our trusted partners, have done. The result: wholesale data centres that are literally twice as efficient as any legacy data centres out there, saving our customers money, and saving the environment.
Innovation is perhaps one of the compelling reasons why the Cabinet Office chose Ark as its joint venture partner for Crown Hosting Data Centres, and why organisations like BT, Exponential-e, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Justice, Boeing, and others are also making a move.
As they say, the proof is in the pudding. So, we’ll keep pioneering better technologies, and we will keep those ideas coming.