The evolution of data centers has been continuous since their inception, with the requirements of each technological era defining each phase of transformation.
As the world abruptly shifted to digital during the COVID pandemic, we are now producing more data than ever before. Naturally, 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 compromising the environment? How can we address the growing threat of cybersecurity and keep our data safe? These are just a few factors that data center operators will need to consider moving forward.
TNW spoke with Uwe Erlenwein, head of data center construction at cloud provider IONOS, to learn more about how companies can address these challenges and what lies ahead for the data centers of the future.
Sustainability must be at the forefront of design.
The more we rely on technology platforms in our daily lives, the more we need data centers to support that lifestyle. However, as climate change is society’s biggest and most serious global challenge, the energy-intensive needs of data centers have come into question, bringing with it emerging regulations, but also new innovations.
Climate consideration will soon be a mandatory criteria for all data centers. Obtaining approval for construction plans is increasingly complex, as it involves a lengthy evaluation in which the sustainability characteristics of the proposed facility must be exhaustive and evidenced.
Frankfurt, for example, requires data centers to take up less space and have a green facade before they can get planning permission. IONOS has put this idea into practice in its new data center in Worcester, UK. Several sections of the site, such as the auxiliary buildings, the substation, and the bike shelter, have green roofs. In addition, there are environmental protection areas in the business park with insect and bee hotels to encourage wildlife and nature to continue to flourish in the area.
Considering where your customers are located is key.
New initiatives like the Climate Neutral Data Center Pact are encouraging operators and trade associations to go beyond sustainability goals and make their facilities carbon neutral by 2030. In addition to incorporating nature within the fabric of one site, carbon-intensive legacy building materials will be replaced. increasingly important in the future.
Uwe tells us that at Worcester Six Business Park, “the manufacturer fully offset the carbon used to make the building skin. This was just a start for us – we are looking at reduced carbon or completely carbon neutral concrete and steel for the future.”
Optimal location and process maximize efficiency
As the world becomes increasingly crowded and space availability shrinks, deciding where to locate a data center will become even more challenging. Before construction begins, there are several factors that need to be taken into account.
Considering where your customers are is key – having low latency for increased speed, performance and efficiency is imperative. When deciding where to locate the new IONOS data center, explains Uwe, “we wanted to be in the region around Birmingham because it’s more or less the middle ground for most of our customers. You have more or less the same latency in London as in Manchester.
Access to fiber and energy also influences the decision. At Worcester Six Business Park, the developer from whom IONOS purchased the land was also contracted to build the motorized housing. Being aware of energy and accessing the right kind of power was important to both parties.
“The entire roof is covered by photovoltaic (PV) panels, which generate up to 10% of our total energy consumption. The rest of the power comes from the grid and we only buy pure green power from solar, wind or hydro power sources,” shares Uwe. This shift towards clean energy procurement will become commonplace and essential for data centers around the world to move forward.
With increased pressure and demand for environmental responsibility, not to mention rising global temperatures, natural factors such as weather conditions and topography also affect the decision process. “From the beginning, Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) was very important to us. Our design PUE is 1.25 in Worcester,” Uwe reports.
Even in an area with lower temperatures, refrigeration systems are still needed. IONOS uses free air-cooled chillers to adapt to the outside temperature. Once this temperature is reached, the compressors continue to produce cold water, further cooling the site.
When a component fails, overheating and power outages often threaten data centers. In anticipation of this, the new data center in Worcester is designed and built to a Tier IV standard with redundant capacity components and active distribution paths that are also compartmentalized for concurrent maintainability and fault tolerance. Plus, it has on-site generators with unlimited run time, so power is always available.
IONOS uses Hydrous Vegetable Oil (HVO) to power these generators, reducing the carbon footprint by approximately 90%. Additionally, it features a continuous cooling system with surge tanks and automated valve controls.
Remote access and virtualization are growing trends.
More industry innovations are being cultivated to further improve the efficiency of cooling systems and backup generators. Uwe gives us his vision:
“Most people use air cooling, but direct-to-chip liquid cooling is becoming more and more of a thing. Immersion cooling, where IT components are submerged in liquid, is another method that is used.”
Although the market is not there yet, with a lack of storage capacity, some manufacturers are also considering 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 key
In addition to the need for greater efficiency, security concerns continue to put pressure on data centers globally. To monitor the physical site, IONOS deploys CCTV cameras and motion detectors around the perimeter of the building, as well as an intrusion alarm system and fire and smoke detection.
As hackers continue to become more sophisticated, it is critical that data centers also intensify their digital security measures. Remote access and virtualization are growing trends, but many organizations, including IONOS, are cautious when using them.
“We monitor the data center infrastructure and everything on site remotely, but we don’t control it remotely or give any control to the cloud due to certain risks. If hacked, anyone could control a data center infrastructure remotely. The risk of making operational errors remotely is much higher than if you operate it on site,” says Uwe.
Predictive maintenance will be key in the future, with the ability to implement complex algorithms that run in the background calculating the health status of different components.
What to expect in the future
Uwe reports that it is becoming more common for data center infrastructure equipment vendors to come 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 them start to require less space and energy in the future. And, as digital security measures develop, we will see more virtualization and transitions to the cloud.