As water has become more of a precious commodity this question has taken on increased importance for prospective data center customers. Recent drought conditions throughout the United States has caused many data center providers to take the availability of a sufficient water supply into account when choosing both their prospective cooling methodology as well as, the ultimate location of the facility itself. From a customer perspective the answer to the question as to whether water is the only cooling option available to them is– it depends.
Monolithic modular data centers, whether they use data halls or pre-fabricated units, are by definition—big. Although they provide individual data center space for their customers they don’t cool each unit individually. Due to their need to cool entire building spaces ranging from 20,000 to over a millions square feet, these facilities typically used water-based cooling systems. As one might expect the volume of water used in these applications typically reaches into the millions of gallons.
The primary consideration for sites using water based cooling methods is their location and the area’s susceptibility to drought conditions. A recent article in USA Today entitled “Drought Condition Spreads Over USA” confirmed what many of us have probably already surmised water is currently at a premium. In fact, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 61% of the 48 contiguous states are in “abnormally dry” or drought conditions. The six major data center markets (NY/NJ, N. Virginia, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco and Phoenix) all fall within these areas. So what can this mean for a new data center? Depending on the severity of the drought conditions, planning approvals for sites seeking to use water-based methods could be delayed, returned for modification or, in the worst case, turned down. The other potential ramification is water use restrictions that escalate water rates. For systems that use millions of gallons of water per year this can definitely have a detrimental effect to your operational budget.
In the case of container-based or pre-fabricated data centers the type of cooling methodology used (airside economization or water based) varies depending on the provider. Because of their use as temporary solutions, airside economization tends to characterize the bulk of container solutions, while some pre-fabricated providers of both cooling methods although they tend to align with specific modules. As a result, you choices may still be limited based on the type of configuration that you require.
Since they are designed to be geographically independent, standalone data centers use airside economization as their mode of cooling. Due to the higher thresholds for data center operations as prescribed by ASHRAE, airside economization can be used throughout the country. For example, even Houston offers over 3600 free cooling hours annually. Due to their lack of water dependence standalone facilities can be located even in areas that have a higher susceptibility to drought and free their users from the impact of escalating water rates during periods of scarcity. Note: We are not trying to solve for 4MW+ or day 1 facilities.
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