How to protect data centre operations in extended periods of hot weather

With the world this summer experiencing hot weather conditions, it has become crucial to safeguard the daily operations we previously took for granted. 

Data centres are no exception to this. With the severe weather experienced this summer becoming more frequent, plans need to be put in place so the country can keep running safely. With extreme weather also stretching the capacities of healthcare and emergency services, it’s particularly important that data centres keep IT systems up and running to keep these essential services running.

Prolonged heat waves can be disastrous for any businesses. Environmental conditions can damage IT equipment and cause power outages due to overloaded power grids, while the weather can also lead to health concerns for employees. Without proper maintenance, this can mean server failure, hard drive crashes and data loss.

Taking action to cope with the hot weather

Temperatures in some parts of the UK exceeded 35℃ back in July, with some of the world’s biggest tech companies struggling to combat the searing heat. This included Google and Oracle, which reported ‘cooling-related failures’ that affected their customers for at least a few hours.

This downtime in activity can have significant implications for a customer’s data, but there are ways that companies can ensure this is kept to a minimum. One example is Microsoft, which conducted a project to explore the feasibility of underwater data centres. Back in 2020, marine specialists recovered a data centre off the coast of Scotland’s Orkney Islands which was the size of a shipping container. Following the find, Microsoft believed the concept to be ‘logistically, environmentally and economically practical’.

Data centres also need to ensure they are using new high-energy cooling systems to combat the rising temperatures, especially as a 2021 survey on US-based data centres from the Uptime Institute revealed 45% of respondents said an extreme weather event had threatened their continuous operations.

What data centres can do to prepare for future heat waves

One feature of data centres, which is widely regarded as one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to cooling a facility, is adiabatic cooling. Unlike conventional cooling systems, it doesn’t require an energy-intensive compressor to achieve cooling.

The only power needed is for the fan that assists the adiabatic process in the cooling tower and the pumps that move the water around. It also costs much less for data centres to use adiabatic cooling rather than a conventional cooling system, with any cost-savings being passed on to their customers. Another efficient way is immersion cooling, which involves servers being submerged in dielectric liquid. As liquid is much better at conducting heat than air, this concept requires minimal energy input. There is also no compressed air and fans – either in the cooling system or the hardware being submerged – resulting in an instant power saving.

Monitoring temperatures and humidity can help prolong server and hard drive life, while the importance of having uninterruptible power systems (UPS) protecting equipment against sudden power loss in the event of an extreme weather event is key.

Any lapse in power can be devastating for a customer, with critical data files getting corrupted or lost, mainframes malfunctioning, and money being lost. Having backup generators, which provide power when the main source is compromised, is a fool proof way to ensure these issues do not happen.

The role of HVAC

It’s also worth noting that heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units also play a vital role in a data centre’s operations, with cooling in data centres coming with a number of benefits. Having professional technologies in place allows facilities to stay online for longer, enjoy greater overall efficiency and keeps the machines from overheating to prolong their lifespan.

HVAC units determine how much energy is consumed at a data centre from its operations. But when this is disrupted, the temperature inside the facility quickly starts to get very hot. And if employees are not working on-site, this immediately becomes an issue if they are delayed en route.

Cooling equipment is more than just one fan or impeller installed to ensure air continues to flow through the router. Data centre operators need to ensure there are enough redundancies in place to keep operations running in the event of an emergency. There also needs to be ample space for engineers to carry out any sufficient maintenance, so downtime is kept to a minimum.

Final thoughts

Heatwaves are now happening more frequently all over the world, so it’s imperative for data centres to think ahead and ensure their facilities can cope with any sudden change in working conditions.

By enhancing their business plan and utilising proactive monitoring equipment and modern cooling technologies, data centres can ensure they will always be one step ahead of any potential overheating issues before they arise. They just need to make sure heatwaves and other extreme weather don’t threaten the resiliency of their infrastructure.

Having redundancies to protect against equipment failure, and UPSs to protect against power loss, will ensure a data centre can keep their servers online, no matter how extreme the temperature gets.

About the Author

Steve Wright is Chief Operating Officer at 4D Data Centres. 4D Data Centres is a UK based infrastructure management provider with facilities in Gatwick, Surrey and Kent. We provide award-winning IT infrastructure and services including colocation, cloud, ultra-fast connectivity and cyber security.

Featured image: ©Michael C Turner