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Every year, the amount of electronic data that companies process and store grows exponentially. Data centers cannot economically increase the physical space available to keep pace with the growth, and are now challenged to provide more computer power in the same amount of space. The higher levels of microprocessing power in the same physical footprint increases heat density, so owners need more efficient cooling systems that will keep up with the market need without breaking the bank. One technology receiving attention is adiabatic cooling, which uses up to 90 percent less water than other systems. One example is APEX technology, packaged mechanical cooling equipment developed by Technical Systems, Inc.

Data center cooling challenges – impact to the environment and to bottom line profit

The demand for advanced computing power rises year after year, but the more powerful the system, the more heat it generates. As data centers grow, they place higher demands on cooling equipment. Packing as much kilowatt and computer usage into as small a space as possible is key to reducing the cost and size of the facility. In doing this, data centers increase the power density of their systems, drawing more power, and generating more heat per unit area.

In addition to increasing power costs, owners are concerned about the environmental impacts of data centers, including their carbon footprint and their impact on local power plants and water usage. While power costs and water availability may vary from region to region, owners throughout the country are concerned about reducing operating expenditures and finding ways to transfer electronic data more efficiently, and with less electrical power and water than was used 10 years ago.

To make sure these powerful systems are in top shape and not overheating, cooling systems have to adapt and grow as well. To keep the business profitable, data centers must balance the benefits of advanced, powerful technology against the cost of running such computing systems. It has become clear that the industry can no longer go on the way it has for decades – constantly building larger and larger data centers as the need grows. They must find ways to remove heat efficiently without adding significantly to the already high cost of running the data center.

High efficiency adiabatic cooling reduces infrastructure and operating costs

All cooling equipment must reject heat to the atmosphere and most designers use either evaporative or air cooling. Equipment using evaporative coolers (cooling towers) are more energy efficient than air cooled, but they use high volumes of water and require costly maintenance and chemical treatment. A data center can easily use many millions of gallons of water each year.

Air cooled equipment operates well when ambient temperatures are cold, but they draw much more energy during hot seasons.This higher energy draw requires a larger and much more expensive infrastructure to support it. For example, backup generators must be sized for the highest possible draw, and are thus much larger for air cooled systems.

Recently, new technology has become available that uses a third option, adiabatic cooling, which incorporates both evaporative and air cooling into a single system. Adiabatic cooling systems use evaporation of water to pre-cool the ambient air to within a few degrees of the wet bulb, allowing much cooler and more efficient operation.

Unlike purely traditional cooling towers that constantly use water, the adiabatic system uses evaporative cooling only during the hottest part of the day and year. Air cooling only loses efficiency under unusually high ambient temperatures, so these are the only times evaporative cooling is truly necessary. During the rest of the time the system meets the facility’s cooling load without using any water, operating as a simple air-cooling system.

These systems can run dry for as much as 85 percent of the year in most climates, with up to 90 percent less annual water usage than other systems. When the ambient air is hot enough to require evaporative cooling, the system switches over, efficiently handling cooling needs for the whole year. When the ambient air is no longer hot, evaporation is no longer needed and the system can transition to dry air cooling without water. A system set up in this way allows data centers to efficiently cool their processors while using much less water than traditional cooling systems.

Evaporation is constrained within the adiabatic section, so the heat transfer coil remains completely dry, preventing unwanted scale buildup and reducing reliance on expensive chemical treatment systems.

Adiabatic systems consume far less energy than air cooled systems.These smaller kilowatt systems can in turn reduce the size of costly backup generators that support the cooling system. This reduction in infrastructure costs reduces the cost of building the facility and also reduces the power and utility bills. In addition, it also saves space, which can be used for the data centers’ electronics when there are footprint issues.

New options offer best of both worlds

Adiabatic technology has been used for many years in the data center industry on the air side for air handlers, but until recently it had not been adapted into mechanical equipment. Now, using its APEX technology, Technical Systems, Inc. has brought this versatile adiabatic cooling technology into economical self-contained mechanical cooling equipment.

The packaged unit contains factory built-to-order equipment with everything required for operations. When it arrives in the field, the system is factory-tested and ready to go, with all components supplied from one single manufacturer. The technology can be applied to fluid coolers, condensers, condensing units, and chillers.

The economic solution

Challenged to do more with less, data centers are seeking innovative ways to keep operating costs as low as possible – all while computer technologies may be changing as often as every three months. In a market demanding denser and more powerful electronics, data centers are pressed for cooling technology that can keep up with the times. New offerings in mechanical equipment, including packaged adiabatic cooling technology, helps data center owners meet the challenges posed by rising utility costs and environmental issues.

Adiabatic cooling brings together the best aspects of the most commonly used cooling systems. Packaged into one convenient unit, systems like the APEX help data centers efficiently cool their electronics while minimizing their cost of doing business.

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