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Modular Approach Curbs Data Center Energy Use

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Using small modular cooling blocks that can be scaled to actual IT use results in 90% energy efficiency.

Data centers use nearly 2% of the world’s supply of electricity at any given time, and 37% of that amount is used to keep computing equipment cool.

Data centers are a lynchpin of our modern economy. Keeping up with the explosive growth of digital content, big data, e-commerce, and Internet traffic is making these facilities one of the fastest growing consumers of electricity in developed countries.

Data-center power consumption is on the rise, increasing 56% worldwide and 36% in the U.S. from 2005 to 2013. In fact, data centers use nearly 2% of the world’s supply of electricity at any given time, and 37% of that amount is used to keep computing equipment cool. Not only is this a drain on the power grid, but it also taxes water supplies. A 15-MW data center can use as much as 360,000 gal. of water/day—that’s more than half the water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Energy Solutions

Aligned Energy, Danbury, CT, an integrated technology platform, has developed a solution that eliminates infrastructure complexity and waste, heightens visibility and control, and improves reliability in data centers. One of Aligned Energy’s subsidiary companies, Inertech, set out to address the key drivers of cost in data centers:

* over-building a data center
* underusing an existing data center
* using cooling technology inefficiently.

With 80% of a data center’s costs going toward the electrical and mechanical systems, Inertech determined that the only way to effect real change was to drive down the cost of the cooling system and electrical blocks.

Using the Danfoss, Baltimore, portfolio of products and application expertise, Inertech personnel were able to develop a solution that scales mechanical and energy infrastructure directly to servers and storage use, which has yielded significant savings in water and electricity costs.

The majority of a data center’s upfront costs are in building chiller infrastructure. The average data center is constructed to a “perceived build,” based on the anticipated IT capacity. Companies try to predetermine the size of chiller plants needed to support IT. However, these calculations are highly complex and difficult to accurately predict. Often, companies significantly overbuild data centers, unnecessarily inflating their capital costs.

Operators of existing data centers working under this model were spending nearly 85% of their capital expense upfront. These operators would start up their IT kits and learn that the system capacity was much greater than the actual load.

Earl Keisling, Intertech CEO, explained that, “IT systems are designed, like in the financial industry, to ‘follow the sun around.’ These systems are designed to support very high loads in a given area, whether it be Hong Kong, or the London stock exchange, but have to be able to support low loads as well. The problem with the original technology– these large chiller plants–is that they only work well when they’re fully loaded, because that’s what they were designed for.”

Keisling added that when data centers are operating they never draw more than 60% of the wattage listed on the server nameplate. “Therein lies the problem—that you designed a system for servers, and your utilization is only a fraction of what that name plate is.”
If companies overbuild their cooling systems, or install products they aren’t using, it is operationally and fiscally inefficient. The lack of a supply-chain model that scales products to requirements has fueled the perpetual repetition of this costly practice.

Inertech’s approach to cooling and water usage reduces data-center startup costs by as much as 85% and results in chiller-plant efficiencies of 80% to 90%.

Innovative Solution

Inertech’s patented model has been able to reduce 80% to 85% of the cost of starting a data center. On the operational side, because Inertech’s cooling systems are 90% more efficient than a traditional chiller plant, it is able to drastically cut the electrical infrastructure that supports that data center for its customers.

Inertech built a platform of small modular cooling blocks that can be scaled to actual IT use. It worked with Danfoss to identify critical components that would enable it to maximize efficiencies for energy and water use. The system design supports data center needs in a much more cost-effective delivery model than a traditional chiller plant, as the smaller platforms can be installed exactly when they are needed, or ‘just-in-time,’ without interrupting IT online operations.

Inertech’s cooling cycles were designed modularly, in the equipment, as well as in the physical infrastructure, enabling data centers to scale over time. Working in a supply chain of four to six weeks, Danfoss and Inertech deploy and hook up pre-assembled modular units to data centers based on their actual IT use, which has resulted in energy efficiency of 80% to 90%, versus a normal chiller plant.

A traditional 10-MW data center would typically require 20 MW to have sufficient power to get the chiller plant back online in the event of a power outage. Modularizing the system with small Turbocor blocks resulted in very low in rush, only using the compressors as needed, which reduced the electrical infrastructure required from 100% overhead to 15%.

Inertech’s Cactus Units use about 80% to 85% less water than a traditional chiller plant. This particular unit also affords data centers the ability to run dry, providing added flexibility to compensate for the atmosphere and surrounding conditions.

“We’ve created efficiencies in both energy and space,” said Marcus Moliteus, vice president of sales and engineering at Inertech. “By doing that we can provide our clients with a modular chiller plant or cooler solution in 350- to 500-kW modular blocks. We’ve worked closely with Danfoss to reduce amperage on the Turbocor compressor the way we apply it in our patented cycle and, by doing so, have created efficiencies beyond what the original product intended.” The collaboration has enabled Inertech to create multiple efficiencies, reduce the overall environmental footprint, and drive costs down for its customers.

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