Thursday, 13 August 2015

China Working to Overcome Power and Cooling Challenges

Chinese data centre builders are finding themselves in a classic Catch-22 situation.  They are intent on designing new facilities with power and cooling focused on green initiatives in accordance with emission reduction goals, yet the pollution in many regions of China is so severe that it is unwise to use outside air for cooling purposes.  Designers are working hard to overcome such challenges in order to make sure their new facilities are in line with the latest green energy standards.

One such company is currently undertaking extensive research at facilities located in China and the US Silicon Valley. Chief architect of Baidu, Ali Haeydari, recently spoke at a San Francisco data centre conference where he explained the crux of the problem in China.

According to Haeydari, most of the development in China exists in the cities and towns in the eastern portion of the country, cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.  As a result, the most serious pollution problems are also found in those cities.  As new data centres are going up in these primarily industrial and commercial areas, builders have to contend with dirty air that cannot be used for cooling purposes.

Beijing provides a clear illustration of the problem at hand.  Some of the more common pollutants in the local air include things such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide; two substances that are terribly corrosive to highly sensitive computer equipment.  If that air were to be pumped into a data centre to keep servers cool, over time it would damage the equipment.  The amount of money spent on replacing damaged equipment would make cooling in this way too cost prohibitive.

Several Possible Options

Haeydari told the conference that one of the options his company is looking into was that of using different methods of air scrubbing.  This technology calls for using filtration and water and chemical spraying to remove pollutants from the outside air.  It is technology that works very well, but it is expensive and requires extra money and equipment to control humidity levels.

Baidu is also researching the possibility of other cooling solutions that do not require outside air.  One example cited by Haeydari is a liquid-cooling solution that uses heat exchanger coils mounted underneath server racks.  It can be controlled and modified according to the volume of equipment present on any given rack.

Even if Baidu gets the cooling issue solved in the near future, they still face the prospect of high energy prices and low power density levels for server racks.  They will have to address those problems as well.

China is investing a lot of time and resources into building its network infrastructure and data centre volume.  They must do so while trying to balance green energy goals with the need to compete in a global marketplace that is advancing at lightning fast speeds.  Will they be able to overcome serious air pollution and energy problems, or will they eventually fail to compete in the global marketplace?



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