3 ways data center design will change in the future

The evolution of data centers has been unbroken since their advent, with the requirements of each technology era shaping each phase of transformation.

As the world transitioned abruptly to digital during the COVID pandemic, we are now producing more data than ever before. Of course, the demand to manage, store and process that data has also increased exponentially. Along with this increased demand comes a new set of challenges and things to consider when building the data centers of the future.

How can we meet our growing data needs without endangering the environment? How can we address the growing cybersecurity threat and keep our data safe? These are just some of the factors data center operators should consider.

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TNW spoke to Uwe Erlenwein, Head of Data Center Construction at cloud provider IONOS, to learn more about how companies can meet these challenges and what the data centers of the future have to offer.

Sustainability should be at the forefront of design

The more we depend on technology platforms in our daily lives, the more we need data centers to support that lifestyle. However, with climate change now becoming society’s biggest and most dire global challenge, the intensive energy needs of data centers have been called into question, with new regulations, but also new innovation.

Climate consideration will soon be a mandatory criterion for all data centers. Obtaining approval for building plans is becoming increasingly complex as it involves a lengthy assessment that requires thorough and proven sustainability features of the proposed facility.

Frankfurt, for example, requires data centers to take up less space and have a green facade before they can get a building permit. IONOS has put this idea into practice at its newest data center in Worcester, UK. Various parts of the site, such as the outbuildings, the substation and the bicycle shed, have been fitted with green roofs. There are also environmental protection areas with insect and bee hotels on the business park to encourage wildlife and nature to continue to flourish in the area.

It is important to consider where your customers are located.

New initiatives, such as the Climate Neutral Data Center Pact, encourage operators and industry associations to go beyond sustainability goals and make their facilities carbon neutral by 2030. increasingly important in the future.

Uwe tells us that at the Worcester Six Business Park “the carbon used to manufacture the building cladding was fully offset by the manufacturer. This was just the beginning for us — we are looking at low carbon or fully carbon neutral concrete and steel for the future.”

The optimal location and process maximizes efficiency

As the world becomes increasingly crowded and space availability shrinks, deciding where to locate a data center becomes even more difficult. Before starting construction, there are several factors to consider.

Considering where your customers are is essential: having low latency for increased speed, performance and efficiency is imperative. When deciding where to locate IONOS’ new data center, Uwe explains: “We wanted to be in the Birmingham area, as that’s more or less the hub for most of our customers. You have pretty much the same latency to London as to Manchester.”

Access to fiber optic and power also weighs in the decision. Worcester Six Business Park, from which developer IONOS purchased the land, was also contracted to build the powered shell. Being energy conscious and having access to the right kind of power was important to both parties.

The entire roof is covered with photovoltaic (PV) panels, which generate up to 10% of our total energy consumption. The rest of the energy comes from the grid and we only buy pure green energy from solar, wind or hydropower sources,” says Uwe. This shift to clean energy procurement will become common and essential for future data centers around the world.

With increased pressure and demand for environmental responsibility – not to mention rising global temperatures – natural factors such as weather conditions and topography are also influencing the decision-making process. “From the beginning, the effectiveness of energy consumption (PUE) was very important to us. Our design PUE is 1.25 in Worcester,” Uwe tells us.

Even in an area with lower temperatures, cooling systems are still necessary. IONOS uses free air cooling chillers that are matched to the outside temperature. After this temperature is reached, compressors continue to produce chilled water, further cooling the site.

When a component fails, overheating and power failure often threaten data centers. To anticipate this, the new Worcester data center is designed and built to a Tier IV standard with redundant capacity components and active distribution paths that are also compartmentalized to achieve simultaneous maintainability and fault tolerance. In addition, it has generators on site with unlimited run time, so power is always available.

IONOS uses hydrated vegetable oil (HVO) to power these generators, reducing its environmental footprint by approximately 90%. Furthermore, it has a continuous cooling system with buffer tanks and automated valve controls.

Remote access and virtualization are growing trends.

More innovations are being developed in the industry to further improve the efficiency of cooling systems and backup generators. Uwe gives us his insight:

“Most people use air cooling, but direct-to-chip, liquid cooling is becoming more and more a thing. Immersion cooling, where your IT components are submerged in the liquid, is another method that is used.”

While the market isn’t there yet, with storage capacity lacking, some manufacturers are also looking at using hydrogen fuel cells to power generators in the future. Sustainable and completely emission-free, it could be a breakthrough for the industry.

Increased security and monitoring are essential

Aside from the need for greater efficiency, security issues continue to weigh on data centers worldwide. To monitor the physical location, IONOS deploys CCTV cameras and motion detectors around the perimeter of the building, as well as an intruder alarm system and fire and smoke detection.

As hackers become more sophisticated, it is critical for data centers to step up their digital security measures as well. Remote access and virtualization are growing trends, but many organizations, including IONOS, are cautious about using them.

“We monitor the data center infrastructure and everything on the site remotely, but we don’t monitor it remotely or give control to the cloud because of certain risks. If you get hacked, anyone can remotely manage a data center infrastructure. The risk of making operational errors remotely is much higher than when you operate it on site,” says Uwe.

Predictive maintenance will be key in the future, with the ability to deploy complex algorithms that run in the background and calculate the health status of the various components.

What to expect in the future

Uwe reveals that it is becoming increasingly common for data center infrastructure equipment vendors to come up with built-in AI capabilities that monitor and analyze health status. Automating this process will improve the accuracy of real-time monitoring and allow operators to have a constant overview of the site.

Data center efficiency is already improving and should continue as demand for more centers increases. We will see that they will require less space and energy in the future. And as digital security measures evolve, we will see more virtualization and transitions to the cloud.

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