Executive Roundtable: How New Data Center Designs Will Meet Shifting Industry Paradigms

March 18, 2024
In the first installment of our Q1 Executive Roundtable, we ask five data center industry leaders about ways the unprecedented growth in digital infrastructure for AI and the cloud, and attendant core concerns surrounding cooling, power and sustainability, are giving rise to new paradigms for data center design.

At Data Center Frontier, we always like to ask the experts -- in this case, the five seasoned data center industry leaders featured in our Executive Roundtable for the First Quarter of 2024.

Today we begin by asking for our experts' ideas about the most significant ways whereby the unprecedented growth in digital infrastructure for AI and the cloud, and attendant core concerns surrounding cooling, power and sustainability, are giving rise to new paradigms for data center design.

Last year, DCF's founder Rich Miller reported on how Meta has set about retooling its massive digital infrastructure for AI, fine-tuning everything from tiny chips to giant data centers. As part of that shift, Meta confirmed that its new design will make extensive use of liquid cooling.

With the unprecedented growth in digital infrastructure for AI and the cloud, core concerns surrounding power and sustainability are joining liquid cooling variables to inspire new paradigms for data center design. For the first installment of our Q1 Executive Roundtabe, we asked our the distinguished industry experts of our Q1 Executive Roundtable for their thoughts on this topic.

In addition to today's discussion, each day throughout the week, our panel of executive thought leaders will offer their observations on other front-of-mind industry considerations for the First Quarter, including:

  • Whether the data center industry is approaching a similar inflection point for the expansion of edge and prefab modular facilities to meet hyperscale capacity and compute demands, as it did last year with the expansion of data center rack power densities in response to the wave of heightened expectations for generative AI and liquid cooling uptake.
  • Whether data center developers’ short-term investment is keeping pace with the level of hype versus the actual deployment of a range of data center liquid cooling technologies. And if not, when the industry can expect to see these vectors comprehensively converge.
  • Probing the junction between complex challenges in North American data center supply chains and delivery timelines in 2024, and the how the formation of creative industry alliances and acquisitions can facilitate solutions.

Our distinguished panel of leaders for the First Quarter of 2024 includes:

Sean Farney, VP of Data Center Strategy for the Americas, JLL
Ian Golter, Engineered Solutions Manager - Datacenters, Kohler Co.
Brandon Peterson, Senior VP of Business Development, CoolIT Systems
Stuart Lawrence, VP, Product Innovation & Sustainability, Stream Data Centers
Eric Schwartz, CEO, CyrusOne

 

Over the course of this week, we’ll moderate a Q&A with these experts on each one of the four roundtable topics. We begin today with our roundtable's remarks on how new data center designs will meet shifting industry paradigms.

Data Center Frontier:  What do you see as the most significant ways whereby the unprecedented growth in digital infrastructure for AI and the cloud, and attendant core concerns surrounding power and sustainability, are giving rise to new paradigms for data center design?

 

Sean Farney, JLL:  The revolutionary ways in which AI changes power and cooling are well-documented. We haven’t yet seen much marketing around the sustainability benefits of liquid cooling, but this is a great story for the industry, and I hope to see it promoted more. 

I'm a champion of adaptive reuse as a proven strategy to address the constraints on digital infrastructure and sustainability. 

There's an astounding 5 billion square feet of commercial real estate in the US alone. It's entitled, powered, cabled and located in virtually every demographic area. 

Combined with a modular solution, adaptive reuse offers unparalleled time-to-revenue, ultra-low PUE and carbon circularity. 

And the industry is really good at repurposing industrial assets for data center use: 350 Cermak, 60 Hudson, One Wilshire and 529 Bryant Street are some of the most storied facilities in the business. 

I challenge the design/build folks to reconsider this old-school type of recycling. 

 

Ian Golter, Kohler Co.: I believe new paradigms for data center design will be based on data center location. 

Broadly speaking, traditional data center markets no longer have available room, power, or water to support significant builds. 

The exploding demand is driving new sites further from historical hubs and to new locations, which all present environmental design challenges. 

Thermal management, water intensity, overall footprint, and emissions will all be challenges to address that will drive a paradigm shift in data center design. 

 

Brandon Peterson, CoolIT Systems:  We have seen many data centers working hard to catch up to the sudden hard requirement for liquid-cooling on many of the AI platforms. 

Large data center owners plan years in advance and changing course toward the end of these cycles is challenging. Bridge technologies like air-to-liquid coolant distribution units will allow liquid-cooled IT to be deployed nearly anywhere, which will create the time needed to plan for liquid-cooling in greenfield applications. 

We also think that having partners with robust experience retrofitting liquid-cooling into legacy air-cooled data centers may be of benefit to many data center owners. This has largely been the deployment model for liquid-cooling over the past 10 years, so many of these capabilities exist.

From a sustainability perspective, data centers moving toward liquid-to-liquid coolant distribution units will see the maximum benefit relative to data centers bridging the gap with liquid-to-air coolant distribution units. 

This is because liquid-to-air coolant distribution units still reject heat to the data center space, and still require its removal via traditional data center cooling technologies. 

Yes, there can still be savings at the server level due to reduced fan power consumption, but the larger opportunity for sustainability is in reducing the overall data center PUE.

 

Stuart Lawrence, Stream Data Centers:  Increasing densities for AI are having serious implication on data center design. 

Most significantly impacted are footprint and embodied carbon, power funneling, heat rejection and location strategy. 

Closely following these items, and influenced by their outcomes, is supply chain. As I note in my response to an upcoming question, I don’t think the supply chain impacts are fully understood just yet.

 

Eric Schwartz, CyrusOne:  All participants in the value chain are working to address the growth in demand for digital infrastructure. 

CyrusOne is continually upgrading and improving the power efficiency and sustainability of our facilities with components such as closed loop cooling systems that reduce water consumption and the implementation of extensive recycling programs for customers at our sites.  

In addition, we are creating new dimensions of partnership with other companies including our recently announced partnership with KEPCO, a power and utility provider in Japan, to develop new datacenter facilities.  

Increasingly, our data center designs incorporate more elements for future flexibility particularly with regard to support of new cooling technologies and increasing power densities.

 

Next: Charting the Edge and Prefab Modular Data Center Inflection Point

 

Keep pace with the fast-moving world of data centers and cloud computing by connecting with Data Center Frontier on LinkedIn, following us on X/Twitter and Facebook, and signing up for our weekly newsletters using the form below.

About the Author

Matt Vincent

A B2B technology journalist and editor with more than two decades of experience, Matt Vincent is Editor in Chief of Data Center Frontier.

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