Thought Leadership

Data Centre Design Safeguarding the Future

05 Jul 2024

10 minutes to read

Keeping pace with technology

Current state:

The race to bring new data centre capacity into production is accelerating. However, today’s investment decisions often lean more on past practices than on future foresight.

While most new building financial models and design frameworks draw from historical best practices, accredited research warns that data centres designed and constructed in the last 5 to 7 years are at risk of obsolescence.

With increasing levels of data rate performance, existing technical standards, engineering specifications, and drawing templates are fast becoming outdated.

Rate of change:

  • The emergence of AI compute rates is introducing new layers of complexity to the engineering landscape.
  • Rapid technological evolution makes it increasingly challenging to predict the shape, size, and operating conditions required for the next generation of graphics chips.
  • AI application platforms demand heightened server density, expanded space, enhanced containment, power, and chip-aligned cooling systems.

Where service level continuity cannot be compromised, minimising the frequency of power-down refurbishments and 'forklift' upgrades is imperative.

Conventional Approach:

It’s relatively straightforward to design based upon conventional design assumptions. For the past 20 years, the convention of 19in practice cabinets with front-to-back airflow and hot-aisle containment has provided a globally accepted, ultra flexible approach that has accommodated every make of file server, storage device and networking component. It has enabled Dell, HP, Cisco, and Juniper to deliver their air-cooled products into a known environment without any need for adaption or specialisation. 

New Challenges

This conventional practice has been adopted across the industry from the humblest low density co-location site to the hyper-scale operators with their vast server farms. Initially there was a natural limit set by 32Amp single-phase PDUs capable of delivering 7kW per cabinet more recently three-phase 32 Amp PDUs have taken this up to 22KW per cabinet. In practice, high density loads have not usually exceeded 15KW per cabinet because this loading approached the practical limit of conventional air cooling. It becomes difficult to get the necessary amount of air through the cabinet and may lead to the need to increase the cold aisle width which will of course reduce the number of rows of server cabinets in the data hall. However, it is not so easy safeguarding for tomorrow. How do we resolve this conflict?

Our Response - Scenario Modelling:

In collaboration with its central engineering team, we develop model representing different operational assumptions of data centre computational architecture.

Before a design brief is frozen, we consider the engineering implications of different computational stacks. We introduce example high density processors, active networking equipment, and mass data storage products. We use these examples to run calculations based upon various data hall floor plate configurations. 

By exploring ‘what if’ variations for different scenarios, we can assess the implications of compute density upon, cabinet aisle assembly, power, and cooling. By tweaking the model, we can better understand the implications of AI processors.

RED is actively developing the first direct to chip water cooled data hall designs in anticipation of the growing demand. This groundbreaking work will help to establish practical solutions for data centre operators who need to offer their customers flexible, practical, maintainable and cost-effect direct-to-chip water cooling in their data halls.

Our embodied carbon calculator reports provide a corresponding whole life Co2 for a given configuration.

Safe Place:

By combining extensive data centre engineering experience with advanced software tools, we model the future state data centre with precision. The ability to explore diverse options within a virtual workshop ensures that long-term data centre viability remains uncompromised by the urgency to bring new capacity to the market.

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