The climate targets are high, and so is the growth in data centers. 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 center 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 center 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. largest Internet hub in the world ahead of Amsterdam and London. There are a total of 340 Internet hubs worldwide, 165 in Europe and 80 in North America.
Data centers as an important part of the economy
In 2014, the number of direct employees in the data center industry, at 120,000, was already higher than the 105,000 employees in the aerospace industry. At the same time, it is important to remember that digitization with autonomous driving cars and the Internet of Things has not yet really begun.
At Toyota, it is estimated that the autonomous vehicles alone, which will be driving in tests and pilot projects in 2025, will exchange around 10 exabytes of data per month... with each other and with the cloud. That will be around 10,000 times more than today.
In summary, this means: Data centers 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 power consumption of the data centers in Frankfurt exceeds the power requirements of Frankfurt Airport. Two billion euros are spent on energy alone in Frankfurt.
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. At 9.9 million 4-person households in total in total, this is more than a quarter of all 4-person households in Germany.
Data centers 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 world's most energy-efficient data center and what does energy efficiency for data centers actually mean?
The current central figure is the PUE value (power usage effectiveness factor). It simply divides the total energy requirements of a data center within by the energy 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 results from 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 center in terms of energy efficiency, since a value lower than one is not possible.
Servers are four times hotter than a hotplate
The above example shows where the problem lies. Nowadays, 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 calculate the area of a server down to a hotplate, they are four times as large. It is therefore obvious 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 is still a long way from reaching data centers. Water can absorb heat 3300 times better and conduct it 20 times better than air. So it makes sense to make use of these properties for cooling the server blades. This is exactly what the company Megware from Dresden offers exactly this.
With a smart overall concept created by Cloud & Heat this means a world record with a PUE value of 1.014.
Level-2: The next level of efficiency
The ingenious thing about the concept is that the now heated water is used to heat buildings. In concrete terms, this will save €40,000 in heating costs per year in the computer centre in Frankfurt, as a hotel and restaurant in the same building will be 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 within the data center. A further use of the energy outside of the data center makes no difference to the classic energy efficiency.
ERE as a new measure
Therefore, a ratio is needed that takes into account the reuse of the energy. The ERE (Energy Reuse Effectiveness) is therefore the above-mentioned obsolete ratio minus the reused energy. In a perfect world, this would be zero: the complete total energy is reused. In Cloud & Heat's data center 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 clearly: YES. Yes, because the technology represents for the first time how it must be done and, more importantly, how it can be done. No, because as can be seen from the figures in the upper section, Cloud & Heat is an ant in the data center jungle.
Startups as drivers of change
What is important to note, however, is that startups do not necessarily change circumstances by becoming incredibly large 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 large 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 good luck!
The job of startups, therefore, is precisely to show the big guys how it's done right and 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 if it can meet our high performance and scaling requirements.
What do you think? All well and good, but only a "nice to have"?
A key experience from our perspective as a supplier: For most customers, the topic 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, as we are always guided by customer wishes and with a ratio of 1000:50 the subject would take on a completely different priority.
What do you think?
So the question to you is: What do you think about it? Would you like your web hosting provider to be more energy efficient or do other criteria play a more important role? Is it the provider's responsibility to make an effort or should consumers put more pressure on them?
I certainly look forward to your comments on the topic - here or on Facebook - and an exciting discussion.