The climate targets are high, as is the growth in data centres. The world must become climate-neutral in a good 30 years. The company Cloud & Heat shows how both can work together.
This week we had the privilege of attending the inauguration ceremony of a new Cloud & Heat data centre in Frankfurt. The concept is absolutely unique and shows what a future can look like in which ecology and digital growth are brought into harmony.
Data centre growth is through the roof
Frankfurt is now not only world-famous as a banking location, but has become one of the digital hubs in Europe. All major cloud providers from Microsoft to Amazon have already opened large data centers in Frankfurt. Data center space is currently 450,000 m² and is forecast to increase to 600,000 m² by 2020.
Frankfurt is already the world's largest Internet hub in terms of data traffic, ahead of Amsterdam and London. There are a total of 340 Internet hubs worldwide, 165 in Europe and 80 in North America.
Data centres as a significant part of the economy
In 2014, the number of direct employees in the data centre industry was 120,000, which was already higher than the 105,000 employees in the aerospace industry. It is important to bear in mind that digitalisation with autonomous driving cars and the Internet of Things has not yet really begun.
At Toyota, it is assumed that the autonomous vehicles alone, which will be driving in tests and pilot projects in 2025, will exchange around 10 exabytes per month with each other and with the cloud. That will be around 10,000 times more than today.
In summary, this means: Data centres have long ceased to be a marginal topic for our economy and will continue to gain in importance in the future.
The dark side of growth
As beautiful as this growth can be for our economy, it is equally challenging for us as people. Already, the electricity consumption of the data centres in Frankfurt exceeds the electricity demand of Frankfurt Airport. In Frankfurt, two billion euros are spent on energy alone.
The approximately 50,000 data centers in Germany consumed more than 11 billion kWh of electricity in 2016. With an average of 4150 kWh of electricity for a 4-person household, this corresponds to the consumption of 2.65 million households. With 9.9 million 4-person household s in total, this is more than a quarter of all 4-person households in Germany.
Data centres consume as much electricity as 2.65 million 4-person households.
There is therefore a great need for innovative ideas to both not slow down digital growth and still limit the ecological footprint.
Air cooling as the culprit
So how do you design the most energy-efficient data centre in the world and what does energy efficiency for data centres actually mean?
The current central figure is the PUE value (Power Usage Effectiveness factor). It simply divides the total energy demand of a data center within its boundaries by the energy demand required by the IT infrastructure itself.
A simplified example
If I need 400 kWh for the cooling of a server rack and 1000 kWh for the server rack itself, the PUE is 1.4. This is the result of 1400 kWh total energy demand (1000 kWh for IT + 400 kWh for the rest) / 1000 kWh for the IT itself. Consequently, a PUE of 1.0 represents the perfect data centre in terms of energy efficiency, as a value lower than one is not possible.
Servers are four times hotter than a hotplate
The above example shows where the problem lies. Today, air cooling is still standard, which leads to PUEs of 1.4. The servers are ventilated and the air is cooled down in a circuit by cooling systems.
If you reduce the surface area of a server to that of a hotplate, it is four times as large. It stands to reason that a lot of energy is needed for cooling.
Cloud & Heat: World record with PUE value of 1.014
Water cooling as a secret weapon
What was understood decades ago at Porsche and in the automotive sector has not yet reached data centers by a long shot. Water can absorb heat 3300 times better and conduct it 20 times better than air. So it makes sense to take advantage of these properties for cooling server blades. This is exactly what the company Megware from Dresden offers.
With a smart overall concept created by Cloud & Heat, this means a world record with a PUE value of 1.014.
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Level 2: The next level of efficiency
The genius of the concept is that the heated water is used to heat buildings. In concrete terms, 40,000 € in heating costs can be saved per year at the data centre in Frankfurt, as a hotel and restaurant in the same building are supplied with the server waste heat. In terms of energy value, this corresponds to 150 low-energy houses.
PUE does not go far enough
The problem with the current measurement of energy efficiency: The central parameter only takes into account energy that is generated within the data center. Further use of the energy outside the data center thus makes no difference to classic energy efficiency.
ERE as a new measure
A key figure is therefore needed that takes the reuse of energy into account. The ERE (Energy Reuse Effectiveness) is therefore the above-mentioned obsolete indicator minus the reused energy. In a perfect world, this would be zero: the entire total energy is reused. In Cloud & Heat's data centre in Frankfurt, this is currently a maximum of 0.621. Almost 40% of the energy generated is therefore recycled.
Cloud & Heat: The next energy revolution?
Is Cloud & Heat now the new energy revolution in the data center sector? Our answer to this is quite clear: YES. Yes, because the technology represents for the first time how it must go and, more importantly, how it can go. No, because as can be seen from the figures in the top section, Cloud & Heat is an ant in the data center jungle.
Start-ups as drivers of change
What is important to note, however, is that start-ups do not necessarily change circumstances by becoming incredibly big themselves. It is to be wished that every startup becomes maximally big with its new lived values.
However, we know from our own experience that the more successful a startup becomes in its niche, the more likely it is that big players in the market will copy the concepts. This was no different with our specialized WordPress hosting, where many elements were copied by the big players 1.5 years after we entered the market.
We wish you much success!
The task of start-ups is therefore precisely to show the big guys how it's done properly and to become so relevant that others start copying the concept. This is exactly what we wish Cloud & Heat! From our site we will test the system extensively to evaluate whether it can meet our high requirements for performance and scaling.
What do you think? All well and good, but just a "nice to have"?
A key experience from our perspective as a provider: For most customers, the issue of energy efficiency or green electricity plays a very subordinate role.
If we look at how often we are asked about price in relation to ecology, it is certainly 1000:1. This is an incredible pity, because we are always oriented towards customer wishes and with a ratio of 1000:50 the topic would take on a completely different priority.
What do you think?
So the question to you: What do you think about it? Would you like your web host to be more energy efficient or do other criteria play a more important role? Is it the hoster's responsibility to make an effort or should customers put more pressure on them?
Of course I look forward to your comments on the topic - here or on Facebook - and an exciting discussion.