Roundtable: Will Changing Weather Impact Site Selection, Data Center Ops?

Sept. 28, 2021
Recent weather-related disasters and climate considerations are prompting some changes in data center operations (including cooling) but our Roundtable is split on whether site selection will change much.

Today we continue our Data Center Executive Roundtable, a quarterly feature showcasing the insights of thought leaders on the state of the data center industry, and where it is headed. In today’s discussion, our panel of experienced data center executives weighs in on how recent weather disasters are impacting site selection and operations,. Our panelists include Rob Rockwood from Sabey Data Centers, Nancy Novak of Compass Datacenters and Infrastructure Masons, and Peter Panfil from Vertiv.

The conversation is moderated by Rich Miller, the founder and editor of Data Center Frontier. Each day this week we will present a Q&A with these executives on one of our key topics. Here’s today’s discussion:

PETER PANFIL, Vertiv

Data Center Frontier: Recent weather-related disasters – including wildfires, winter storms and hurricanes – have tested long-held assumptions about power reliability and air quality in major data center markets. Will this “new normal” require changes in how the data center industry approaches site selection or facility operations?

Peter Panfil, Vertiv: Climate change has increased the severity and frequency of the disasters data center operators traditionally planned for, and that is already driving changes in design and operation. I’ll give you two examples.

Direct and indirect evaporative cooling systems became popular because they offered good energy efficiency. But water availability and air quality issues have reduced their appeal. The trend now is toward pumped refrigerant systems that offer energy efficiency similar to indirect evaporative systems while protecting data center systems from outside contaminants and supporting water-neutral sustainability goals.

For data center backup power, operators are re-evaluating their systems to ensure they can operate in normal, short-duration utility outages plus longer duration outages in which IT loads need to be shifted to other sites. Some are even exploring the feasibility of continuous operation without utility power.

Moving to a continuous backup power source affects not only system component design, but also fuel considerations and concurrent maintenance. This has highlighted the need for locally generated power to be included in sustainability and business continuity plans.

NANCY NOVAK, Compass Datacenters and iMasons

Nancy Novak, iMasons: I think we need to be careful about describing recent weather related anomalies as a “new normal”. The cold snap in Texas, for example, was a once-in-a-generation event that was exacerbated by a confluence of underlying issues, but I don’t think anyone is saying “well we won’t be building any new facilities there.”

That being said, I do think you will see the industry broaden the scope of site selection activities beyond the immediate locations being evaluated to look at regional and even state infrastructures to evaluate if there are systemic issues that make them more susceptible to problems during a weather-related event.

Rob Rockwood, Sabey: Site selection has long taken a myriad of risk factors into account, and ultimately decisions will be driven by latency, demand and cost considerations.

As such, the most likely changes will be operational in nature rather than geographical. These regions will require equipment and mechanical systems rated higher than previously expected, and as higher standards are developed and incorporated, unit costs will increase.

NEXT: The opportunities and challenges created by “software-defined everything.” 

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About the Author

Rich Miller

I write about the places where the Internet lives, telling the story of data centers and the people who build them. I founded Data Center Knowledge, the data center industry's leading news site. Now I'm exploring the future of cloud computing at Data Center Frontier.

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