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Wasted Heat and The Data Center Value Proposition

By: Blair Felter on June 25, 2014

Of all the power consumed by data centers, almost 40 percent is used for cooling, notes a recent Emerson Network Power whitepaper. It's no surprise, then, that end users and data center companies alike are searching for ways to increase power efficiency and make better use of the 'wasted' heat generated by the cooling process.

The Right Ratio

A June 16th article at Tech Page One discusses the Electric Power Research Institute's data center metric: Power Utilization Effectiveness (PUE). PUE is a ratio that identifies how efficiently a data center uses energy. The more power needed for temperature control, the less efficient the system. Most data centers have a PUE around 2.0, meaning for every 2 watts of power used, only one goes directly to servers; the other watt is needed for energy management.

In an ideal world PUE would be 1, with every watt used to power technology infrastructure. For data centers, this means less money spent on expensive cooling technology and maintenance, while end users could enjoy lower traditional or colocated storage costs.

Use Cases 

For accounting firm KMPG, it made sense to try and re-capture some of this excess heat. According to associate director Dominick Regina, venting all this heat is wasteful. Instead, his company “decided to trap this exhausted heat and funnel it into an absorption chiller.” The result? A drop from 600-degree Fahrenheit waste heat to a 40-degree solution used to chill data center racks. In other words, free air conditioning.

Or consider the work of Finnish firm Academica, which has plans to build an underground center at Uspenski Cathedral and use the excess heat to warm local homes. And in Paris, the Condorcet data center is using heat to help an on-site greenhouse project in conjunction with the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA).

Cold Value

Companies face new a dilemma: More data than ever requires storage, but as density increases so do power and cooling costs. Leading data center providers, however, are now taking on the challenge to lower their PUE and channel waste heat into consumer value.

Better efficiency means smaller cost outlay, but also comes with critical side benefits. First is reduced potential for failure, since intelligently cooled servers are less likely to crash and burn before their natural life cycle expires. In addition, businesses can't ignore the realities of social media and public consciousness. Technology providers that are eco-friendly and power-conscious offer valuable brand alignment that can produce organic user interest.

Wasted heat? Next-gen data centers give it the cold shoulder.

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