Guest blog: S.A.D – Seasonal Affective Data centres and why the industry is praying for a miserable summer

Before the Olympic opening ceremony, British Airways flew a group of five Native Americans into the country to perform a sun dance outside London Bridge. Nothing unusual about that I hear you say, but what if I told you that amongst the Yellow Bird Indian Dancers, there was not a single data centre operator?

This is a peculiar fact indeed, and has led me to the conclusion that unlike the rest of Great Britain, it seems the data centre industry is hoping for a miserable summer.

If you’re watching the five day weather forecast on TV this week, and happen to be in the same room as a data centre professional, you’ll see them smile gleefully at the sight of a grey cloud and scowl should a yellow sun emerge.

Although it is hardly opportune timing as far as the rest of the country is concerned, these types are more than happy to see the recent heat wave fade away and watch the downpours crash our Olympic party.

This Seasonal Affective Disorder reversal comes as a result of the increased IT demand caused by the Olympics, which has in turn led to UK data centres being put under greater stress than ever.

Overworked overheating compute needs to be cooled, so now more than ever, data centre operators will want to be able to employ free cooling methods as they attempt to deal with record numbers of remote workers, continual live HD streaming, and a two week social media frenzy.

Consequently, the current cold-snap could be great news as far as they’re concerned because it means that their facilities could employ popular free air cooling systems, which are typically only available during the winter, throughout the duration of the Games.

A sunnier approach to cooling
All things considered, do we really want a data centre strategy that is so reliant upon the UK’s dreadful weather?

We need a new model because we can’t count on having awful summers ever year (hopefully). New data centre technology, including next generation liquid cooling, means come rain or shine, 24/7 free cooling in the UK is a possibility.

It’s an innovation the industry could be proud to hang its hat on and is an optimistic approach to one of the biggest challenges within the industry today, as well as an extremely effective one.

Traditional air cooling methods are a major contributing factor to the total energy usage of the data centre industry, which is increasing rapidly and set to exceed the airline industry within the next few years.

Such systems are extremely inefficient, and even where free air cooling is available, this practice cannot run throughout the entire year. Furthermore, the procedure is impossible to employ in less temperate climates and developing IT regions such as such as Asia, South America, South Pacific and Africa; all of which could deploy these liquid cooling systems and achieve free cooling – even in the middle of the desert.

It stands against all logic that data centres worldwide are still using air cooling given the other options available.

Although the British affinity with the weather is unquestionable, discussing it, complaining about it and trying to predict it are all fundamental to our heritage; that it should affect our IT systems as much as our barbeques is farcical.

Let us hope that 2013 and beyond, will not only bring heat waves and record temperatures, but also an IT infrastructure which thrives under the very best of British weather and does not yearn for the very worst.


Richard Barrington, business development director, Iceotope.

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