Datacenters that are faced with the challenge of cooling their servers have a brilliant opportunity to jump on the green bandwagon and distribute energy. A European IBM outlet, an Israeli Intel facility and a Scottish Microsoft center are all using the heat their datacenters produce to warm up buildings and other facilities. IBM is even commercializing its method.
The Zurich Research Laboratory is a grand name for the defunct military underground bunker in which IBM housed one of its European datacenters. The company is putting the datacenter’s heat waste to good use; it is cooling its servers with water which is subsequently used to heat a local swimming pool.
A report on IEEE Spectrum indicates that instead of using air-conditioning or fans, the IBM datacenter simply has devised a water pump system through micro channels within the computers themselves. The water then absorbs the heat from the datacenter and sold to the neighbors. “A 10-megawatt datacenter could produce enough energy to heat 700 homes,” according to the article in IEEE Spectrum. Nifty or what?
The reason that IBM opted for heating up the pool rather than its own facility was that there wasn’t an office to heat up because the bunker is based in an inconvenient location and underground. “Through reclaiming the heat, approximately 130 tons of carbon emissions can be saved. This corresponds to the CO2 discharge of mid-size cars driving 500,000 miles,” according to IBM spokesman. “It’s a nice solution. It’s obviously a terrific example of the private sector and the public sector working toward each other’s mutual benefit.”
Apparently, the engineers had a major challenge figuring out what the proper water temperature was going to be. Obviously the local swimming pool needs hot water, yet the water would have to be cool enough too to cool down the servers. Ultimately, it turned out that if the water cycles through the center a couple of times it reaches a temperature hot enough for the swimming pool. Water gets pumped into the datacenter at around 95 degrees Fahrenheit and then leaves at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the temperature for normal hot water from a tap. IBM intends to make the technology into a prototype that will become commercially available in the next five years.
Experts are optimistic about the prospects of the technology. “The approach demonstrates that you don’t need to start from scratch with a new datacenter facility or office building to make use of heat waste”, comments Ted Samson, a sustainable IT expert.
Intel’s outfit in Haifa, Israel, is putting its heat to use in its own building. They have devised a system for their very first LEED Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified building in Israel. The building is a development center and also employs a water based system.
It’s called heat recovery chilling and it operates just as you’d think; a water system uses the water that’s heated by the servers to provide hot water and warm the building. The company simply built its own boilers. “This energy-saving approach accumulates points towards environmental certification and is highly cost-effective,” according to Intel.
Annual savings amount to $235,000 which is achieved mostly by savings on fuel bills. Apparently this translates into an ROI of just over 19 months.
Newly built datacenters are likely to take on board lessons learnt by datacenters that pioneered re-using the heat. Microsoft is planning to invest in one of Scotland’s largest future “eco friendly” facilities. The company backs IT services company Alchemy Plus which will open a 20,000-square-foot eco-friendly computing facility in the Inverness harbour, a spot chosen for its cold climate. Three guesses what they’ll do with the heat the center generates. That’s right; it’s going to be transferred to nearby businesses, including a hotel.
The center, which will be typical of what we’re going to see in the future, will operate on what’s known as a ‘cloud computing model’. This means that users can to subscribe on a monthly basis for IT resources. Alchemy Plus claims their clients’ costs will on average be around 28 percent below their current expenditures.