Larry Bentley is Lead Consulting Engineer, serving as the AC power systems SME for Verizon Business, with 32 years experience with electrical power systems for telecom and data centers.
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” – Yogi Berra
Well, data centers are coming to that fork in the road and they are going to take it too. Data centers are already developing into two distinct branches: data centers that have to be built somewhere, and data centers that can be built anywhere. HUNH???
Many data centers make their location decision based on corporate convenience. Often this is the present location of IT staff, or close to corporate headquarters (the old “show off the corporate jewel” idea), or close to major colo markets (“where our customers are”). These types of data centers will tend to belong to companies who want their data close to where the rest of their business is located.
Some of them have legal reasons as well, maybe HIPPA issues, EU data protection or reusing existing owned property. These data centers have to be built in very specific places, if you will, or as the owning business would see, it close to home. For these reasons, these data centers must be built exactly where they are, or at least relatively close to the final chosen site. Basically, they aren’t going to Greenland.
Remote Locations for the Mega Centers
The other class of data centers could be built anywhere. So, they are built in specifically out-of-the way places — picked for helpful climate, low cost of electrical power, or better security. These are the “cloud” centers of the future. Their physical location doesn’t matter since the data travels at near light speed, and comes from seemingly everywhere.
These will be very large centers, multi-tens of megawatt sites, but their design will evolve rapidly into very simple designs, outside air cooled 90+ percent of the time and many will push that to 100 percent of the time. As for the electrical side these will be fed medium or transmission level voltages, the only way to get that kind of power capacity.
Many in this category will be solely grid powered, with no power backup planned. Others may have a few super critical functions that are designed to have backup power. They will strung together using the fiber network connectivity as their redundancy instead of physical on-site infrastructure, its cheaper that way. They may be Tier 2 or even Tier 1 designs with widely separated twinned sites, where both sites together are built cheaper than a single Tier 3 or 4 site. Their cost per megawatt of IT power will be low and they will have very low operating cost per megawatt as well, due to low utility costs that come with their location and exceptionally low PUEs.
Required Location Sites Present Site-related Challenges
The specific “required location” sites will spend a lot of money to become as efficient as possible, and their designs will vary across the country to take best advantage of their exact location’s climate and energy sources. Quite honestly, their designs will be far more interesting and challenging, with very intensive and often expensive HVAC and electrical equipment. Sure, they will use some free air cooling but trim cooling, dry coolers and other more exotic features will be used to provide the best PUE and operating cost for their specific location.
Some of this type may even go to ice storage to take advantage of low off-peak power rates, where those are available. Still their construction cost per megawatt of power and ongoing operating costs will be higher than the other class of sites. These will require greater skills for a design team to minimize first costs and operational costs and each will be tailored for the specific local power costs and environmental conditions of the area where the site HAS to be built.
That’s my view of what’s down the fork in the road at which we are currently standing.
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