3 ways data center design will change in the future

The evolution of data centers has been continuous since their emergence, with the demands of each technological era defining each phase of the transformation.

As the world abruptly went digital during the COVID pandemic, we are now producing more data than ever before. Of course, the demand for managing, storing and processing this data has also grown exponentially. Along with this increased demand comes a new set of challenges and things to consider when building the data centers of the future.

How can we meet our growing data needs without endangering the environment? How can we face the growing cybersecurity threat and protect our data? These are just a few factors that data center operators will need to consider in the future.

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TNW spoke to Uwe Erlenwein, head of data center construction at cloud provider IONOS, to learn more about how companies can meet these challenges and what the data centers of the future will bring.

Sustainability must be at the forefront of the design

The more we rely on technology platforms in our daily lives, the more we need data centers to support that lifestyle. However, as climate change is society’s biggest and worst global challenge, the intensive energy demands of data centers have been challenged, bringing with it new regulations but also new innovations.

The climate consideration will soon be a mandatory criterion for all data centers. Approval of construction plans is becoming increasingly complex, as it requires a lengthy assessment that must thoroughly and demonstrate the sustainability characteristics of the proposed facility.

Frankfurt, for example, requires data centers to have a smaller footprint and a green facade before they receive planning permission. IONOS implemented this idea in its newest data center in Worcester, UK. Several areas of the site, such as the outbuildings, the substation and the bicycle shelter, are green. In addition, there are environmental protection areas in the business park with beetle and bee hotels to encourage wildlife and nature to continue to thrive in the area.

It matters where your customers are located.

New initiatives such as the Carbon Neutral Data Center Pact are encouraging operators and trade associations to go beyond sustainability targets and make their facilities carbon neutral by 2030. In addition to incorporating nature into the structure of a site, the replacement of old, carbon-intensive building materials will also become increasingly important in the future.

Uwe tells us that at Worcester Six Business Park, “The carbon used to make the building cladding has been fully offset by the manufacturer. This was just a start for us – we are looking for low carbon or full carbon neutral concrete and steel for the future.”

The optimal location and process maximizes efficiency

As the world becomes more crowded and space availability shrinks, deciding where to locate a data center becomes even more difficult. Before you start building, there are a few factors you need to consider.

Considering where your customers are is key: low latency for greater speed, performance and efficiency is essential. When deciding on the location of the new IONOS data center, Uwe explains, “we wanted to be in the region around Birmingham because it is more or less the hub for most of our customers. You have pretty much the same latency after London as after Manchester.”

Access to fiber optics and electricity also plays a role in the decision. At Worcester Six Business Park, the developer from whom IONOS bought the land was also commissioned to build the powered shell. Being energy conscious and accessing the right kind of electricity was important to both parties.

The entire roof is covered with photovoltaic (PV) panels that generate up to 10% of our total energy consumption. The rest of the energy comes from the grid, and we only use pure green electricity from solar, wind or hydropower,” says Uwe. This shift towards clean energy procurement will be common and essential for data centers around the world as they evolve.

With increasing pressure and demands for environmental responsibility – not to mention rising global temperatures – natural factors such as weather conditions and topography are also influencing the decision-making process. “Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) was very important to us from the start. Our design PUE in Worcester is 1.25,” Uwe informs us.

Even in an area with lower temperatures, cooling systems are still needed. IONOS uses chillers with free air cooling to adapt to the outside temperature. After this temperature is reached, compressors continue to produce chilled water and continue to cool the site.

When a component fails, data centers are often at risk of overheating and power outages. To address this, the new Worcester data center is designed and built to a Tier IV standard with redundant capacity components and active distribution paths, also partitioned to achieve concurrent maintainability and fault tolerance. In addition, it has on-site generators with unlimited runtime, so power is always available.

IONOS uses hydrated vegetable oil (HVO) to power these generators, reducing the carbon footprint by around 90%. In addition, it has a continuous cooling system with buffer tanks and automated valve controls.

Remote access and virtualization are growing trends.

More innovation is being cultivated in the industry to further improve the efficiency of cooling systems and backup generators. Uwe gives us his insight:

“Most people use air cooling, but direct-to-chip liquid cooling is becoming an issue. Immersion cooling, where your IT components are immersed in the liquid, is another method that is used.”

Although the market is not there yet due to a lack of storage capacity, some manufacturers are also examining the future use of hydrogen fuel cells to drive generators. Sustainable and completely emission-free, it could be a breakthrough for the industry.

Increased security and surveillance are key

Aside from the need for greater efficiency, security concerns continue to put pressure on data centers worldwide. To monitor the physical location, IONOS uses CCTV cameras and motion detectors around the building, as well as an intruder alarm system and fire and smoke detection.

As hackers become more sophisticated, it is vital for data centers to also beef up their digital security measures. Remote access and virtualization are growing trends, but many organizations, including IONOS, are reluctant to use them.

“We remotely monitor the data center infrastructure and everything on-site, but we don’t control it remotely or give control to the cloud due to certain risks. If hacked, anyone can remotely control a data center’s infrastructure. The risk of operating errors from a distance is much higher than with on-site operation,” says Uwe.

Predictive maintenance will be key in the future, with the possibility of deploying complex algorithms running in the background, calculating the health of the various components.

What to expect in the future

Uwe announces that data center infrastructure equipment vendors are increasingly equipped with built-in AI capabilities that monitor and analyze health conditions. Automating this process will improve the accuracy of real-time monitoring and allow operators to have a constant overview of the website.

Data center efficiency is already improving and must continue as demand for more centers increases. We will see that in the future they require less space and energy. And as digital security measures evolve, we will see more virtualization and transitions to the cloud.

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