Monday, 15 December 2014

Norwegian University Heating Classrooms via Data Centre

Capturing data centre heat for other purposes is not a new idea however the practical aspects of making it work efficiently have prevented the concept from being adopted on a large scale.  That may change in the future, thanks to the example being set by a Norwegian University now heating classrooms via their data centre.

Norway's Arctic University recently implemented a server cooling system that allows them to use the waste heat generated by one of their data centres to provide heat for classrooms.  The Tromso campus is dependent on generated heat year round, no thanks to its location at 70° north.  Being able to use the waste heat from the data centre enables them to keep the campus warm while reducing heating costs and the university's carbon footprint.

The new system is a liquid cooled system utilising two loops and a heat exchanger.  One loop carries heat away from servers while the other transports that heat across campus to provide space heating in classrooms.  The heat exchanger transfers the heat from one loop to the other.

The most important aspect of the cooling system is that the liquid is moved around hot processors in sealed copper tubing that remains in place even if server trays are added or removed.  This creates constant cooling at all times, allowing data centre workers to change server configurations at will without having to shut down the entire system.

According to university officials, the liquid cooling system was chosen over air cooling because liquid is exponentially better at transporting heat.  Some of the university's data centre facilities use a combination of air and liquid cooled systems at the current time, but it intends to eventually convert everything to liquid.  It hopes the completed project will allow it to provide all of the space heat needed across the entire university campus.

Efficient Cooling for Supercomputing

At first glance, it may seem that what is happening at Arctic University is no big deal.  Nevertheless, step back and consider that the university is engaged in routine activities that are considered, by most standards, to be supercomputing.  The load on their servers produces an intense amount of heat that, if left unharnessed, completely goes to waste.  By being willing to design and build systems to capture and use that heat, the university is setting an example that others can follow.

There is no denying that today's IT services, online applications and Internet on-demand is forcing everyone to move closer to supercomputing as the routine standard.  Moreover, once that becomes reality, the power and cooling demands of the average data centre will rise accordingly.  So now is the time to get busy working on ways in which to harness data centre heat so that it can be used for other purposes.

Whether those other purposes include municipal heating or not, the amount of heat generated by supercomputing processes is too valuable to let it go to waste.  Harnessing it will go a long way toward achieving future energy goals.

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