Thursday, 3 July 2014

Norwegian University Using Data Centre Heat to Keep Students Warm

When you are operating a high-tech university within the confines of the Arctic Circle, space heat is at a premium year-round.  Such is the case with Norway's Arctic University in Tromso. The town sits at a latitude of 70°, making it the perfect spot for the types of research they are doing up there.  To keep everyone warm, the university uses excess heat from its HPC (high-performance computing) data centre in combination with other heat sources.

Norway is already a country that manages to generate nearly all of its power by way of renewable sources therefore what is happening at Arctic University is really no surprise.  It is also no surprise that the university plans to improve its heating capacity as it moves HPC operations to a new 2MW data centre in the near future.

The current data centre's cooling system is a combination of air and warm water cooling.  Air-cooling uses cold air to draw heat away from servers where it can be harnessed and used elsewhere.  Warm water cooling uses a dual loop system and heat exchanger to draw heat directly away from central processing units.  It is the warm water cooling system that harnesses most of the excess heat currently being used to provide warmth for campus buildings.

According to HPC team leader Roy Dragseth, the new data centre will be cooled entirely by the warm water systems.  These were chosen because they are more efficient than air-cooled systems and 1,000 times more capable of capturing excess heat for use in other applications.  With a new data centre that is 100% water-cooled, the university will be able to further reduce its dependence on other energy sources for heat.

No Small Feat

The university's new data centre will undoubtedly be the world's greenest, in terms of power and cooling, when it is finally up and running however this is no small feat given the harsh environment in which it is located.  Thankfully, the high-performance computing at the core of the data centre's operations translates into continuously heavy loads 365 days a year.  According to Dragseth, there is no downtime.

The data centre is used primarily to accommodate research facilities that are constantly collecting data from satellites in orbit.  The collected data centre information is continuously accessed by those research facilities for download.  At the same time, researchers are uploading new data to satellites by way of the university data centre.  The constant stream of information keeps the facility near its peak of more than 250 Tflop per rack at all times.  That is a lot of computing power generating a lot of excess heat.

When the creators of warm water cooling system were first designing their architecture, perhaps they never considered the system might one day provide enough heat for campus buildings in the Arctic Circle.  Nevertheless, indeed it does and Arctic University is more than happy to be one of the first to put it to use.  That is the way they do it in Norway.

Source:  Computer Weekly – http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240223707/Arctic-University-warms-classrooms-with-waste-datacentre-heat

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