Data centre operators in parts of London and the Thames Valley are facing new water restrictions as a result of potential action by Thames Water. At least for now, any such restrictions will not be punitive in nature, but one wonders if water restrictions on data centres could be the wave of the future.
Not all data centres rely on water for cooling. But those that do can use more than eighteen million litres daily. That is far too much during periods of high heat and low precipitation. Thames Water discovered as much when they conducted a study last summer in an attempt to understand how much water it takes to cool a data centre.
Working with Data Centres to Reduce Water
Based on what the private utility learned, they are now working with data centres to try to reduce water usage – at least in terms of fresh water normally reserved for drinking and cooking. The utility wants to see data centres make better use of surface water and sewage treatment final effluent.
In order to encourage operators to look at alternative cooling methods, Thames Water is considering deploying flow restrictors and charging data centres more for water at peak times. The utility is also willing to work with operators to figure out other ways to keep their data centres cool.
It's not clear if higher rates and flow restrictors would apply to all data centres in the Thames Water service area. If not, the utility might choose to target only the largest water consumers.
A Better Way to Use Sewage Water
Data centre water consumption isn't the only issue plaguing UK water companies. Companies in England, for example, have recently been scrutinised for not handling sewage properly. Some have been cited for allowing untreated sewage to be discharged along the coastline as well as into England's rivers.
Perhaps both water companies and data centres could work on a collaborative solution to more effectively treat sewage and divert the water into data centre cooling. Water for cooling certainly needs to be fairly clean, but it doesn't have to be as pure as it is for drinking.
Water cooling is just one means of liquid data centre cooling as it utilises water and an air handler to remove heat from the air. But there are other ways to cool, including:
- Air cooling
- Sub-floor chillers
- Traditional air conditioning
- Hot and cold aisle containment
A properly designed data centre can utilise multiple cooling methods so as to not concentrate wholly on water alone. Regardless, the one thing data centre operators cannot do is run for extended periods of time without sufficient cooling.
Why Data Centres Are Cooled
Data centres produce a tremendous amount of heat via mountains of server racks that are constantly running. Not keeping the servers cool equals less efficiency, more breakdowns and sacrificing uptime. It is not a good situation any which way you cut it.
Keeping a data centre sufficiently cool keeps the servers running at maximum capacity. In a data driven world, this is important but, in addition to increased efficiency, cooling helps equipment last longer. The combination of both allows data centres to work towards the industry standard of 99.999% uptime.
The chances of convincing operators in the Thames Valley to stop cooling their facilities are slim to none but, through flow restrictors and higher rates at peak times, Thames Water wants to encourage data centres to use less water. Time alone will tell if they succeed in this quest.
In the meantime, data centres will continue to be among the biggest consumers of both water and electricity. It is the price we pay for living in the digital world however, as an industry, we are all striving to work towards finding greener solutions to help reduce expenditure and, above all, to help protect the future of our beloved planet
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