Engineering has many iconic disciplines, for example aerospace engineering – the sight of an aircraft in the sky is an everyday occurrence, but what is data centre engineering? In fact, currently over 30% of the world’s population directly use data centres, much greater than those who fly. These data centres are the fabric of our digital society, they store and process vast quantities of digital information. The ever expanding number of users and their digital demands are creating a growth in this sector that is now unparalleled. Data centres have always been able to meet the demands of their customers, however more recently the power requirements of new data centres (upwards of more than 50MW), usually located in urban areas, cannot not always be met by the utility power companies.
The reason why data centres consume so much energy is because they contain large data halls which have hundreds of 2m high racks aligned in rows that are each stacked full of servers and network devices, all of which store, process and propagate digital information, processes that generate heat. It is then necessary to blow cold air (typically at 1000+ litres per second per rack) through all of the IT hardware to remove this heat. The management of the air is traditionally done by computer room air conditioning (CRAC) units. Fans, air conditioning units and air handling all consume energy on top of the energy that is used by the IT hardware. The continued energy demand of the digital sector requires smarter, optimal, novel and overall sustainable approaches to cooling.