Power consumption is the resource most often monitored throughout data centers across the country; however there is another resource which also deserves some attention. Water is essential in most data centers and is a rarely used efficiently. Water conservation is primed to become a hot topic over the next few years as data centers implement more energy efficiency practices.
Why is Water Conservation in Data Centers Important?
Water conservation in data centers is essential because it is a critical component of most cooling systems. And evaporative cooling system can consume hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per day. Some data centers have tried to turn solely to air cooling; however this is not effective in high-performance computing environments.
In 2012, it was reported by the US Drought Monitor that all 48 contiguous states suffered from drought conditions at some point. This is especially true for the western side of the country. When drought conditions persist for an extended period of time the data centers water requirements quickly outpace the supplies provided by local utilities. As a result, either the data center will not receive enough water or the surrounding local infrastructure will be weakened.
How Can Data Centers Conserve Water without Risking Equipment Damage?
In data centers where water is necessary for cooling, the difficulty will be finding an effective way to conserve water without damaging equipment. While there is not be a single solution which will fix all the problems, combining multiple techniques can be effective.
- Find Alternative Water Sources
One of the best solutions is simply finding alternative water sources rather than relying solely on the local utilities. Water can be found nearly everywhere; however drinkable water is a relatively limited resource. A recent auction used in larger data centers is gray water. Gray water is a form of wastewater from sinks and tubs; however it does not contain any human waste (brown water). Brown water will likely never be considered a possible alternative water source for data centers because it would require a significant amount of power to complete the necessary treatment process.
Sea water has also shown to be a potential alternative water source. Some companies have been experimenting with ocean water; however there are still some notable technical challenges due to the high salt content.
- Improve Cooling Efficiency
The next way to conserve water in data centers is by improving the cooling efficiency. There are a variety of practices which have been proven to enhance cooling efficiency such as utilizing hot aisle/cold aisle containment, improving airflow, and minimizing the mixing of hot and cold air.
- Monitor Water Efficiency
Much like improving power efficiency, gaining any type of improved water efficiency requires monitoring. It is important to set efficiency goals and work towards them on a regular basis. Many data centers have turned to popular metrics such as WUE (Water Usage Effectiveness) to monitor their water efficiency.
- Improve Overall Energy Efficiency
A simple yet overlooked way to improve water conservation in data centers is by improving overall energy efficiency. Every watt of power a data center consumes is converted into heat. By producing less heat, less cooling is required.
Photo Credit: Joshua Davis (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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