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Data Centers Overview

Alice Huaut 

June 8th, 2023

Paul Benoit, CEO and Co-founder of Qarnot, an innovative company providing computer-based heating solutions, stated in 2022 that our consumption of data centers is estimated to be multiplied by four in the next 10 years. This article will discuss the functioning of data centers, the problems these centers face, and the solutions being addressed.


Data centers are the “technological hub of modern enterprise operations.” They have two principal features: the facility and the information technology (IT). The facility consists of physical space where the IT resides. Its characteristics include adequate space, power, cooling, security, and management. The characteristics of information technology include servers, storage, networking, cables and racks, backup power, and management platforms.

Overheating Data Centers

Data centers are well known for pumping vast amounts of energy. This is because the power used in data centers has two effects. The first consists of powering the IT infrastructure. The second (caused by the first) consists of producing undesirable heat. The anecdotal story of the 2006 overheating Facebook machines helps illustrate this paradoxical use of power for IT. As the IT infrastructure started melting because of the excess heat generated when powering the machines, employees were asked to buy as many fans as possible. “We cleaned out all of the Walgreens in the area” to blast cool air at the equipment and prevent the Web site from going down.

Because of this issue concerning the heat generated by the powered IT systems, “cooling systems are a critical concern for data center designers and operators”.

Cooling Methods

HVAC Subsystems

There are primarily two cooling aspects that must be considered. Firstly, the amount of cooling required is determined by the size and capacity of the data center's HVAC subsystems, a space conditioning system. Secondly, tackling an effective strategy to deal with heated and cooled air flows.

Unlike the typical strategy used at home and in the office, cooling the room temperature is not sufficient or effective. Racks of extremely hot equipment require cautious cooling air application, followed by thoughtful containment and removal of heat. Designers frequently use confinement strategies such as hot aisle versus cold aisle layouts. For instance, aisles in front of each row of racks are filled with cold air from the HVAC system, while the common hot aisle collects and exhausts heated air.

Liquid Cooling

Another cooling strategy includes liquid cooling techniques that submerge IT equipment in baths of cold, electrically neutral liquids, like mineral oils. Liquids have a higher heat transfer efficiency than air chilling.

For example, the French company, Coolabs, has developed mineral oil to plunge IT hardware into. The appearance of this innovative cooling strategy is impressive, as the mineral oil resembles water. However, as Coolab founder, Serge Conesa, explains, mineral oil is a non-conductive liquid that absorbs up to 1500 times more air heat. The oil temperature can be regulated depending on the IT hardware’s needs. If all data centers equipped themselves with this system, the 20 percent worldwide electricity usage for data centers would drop to 4 percent.

This technology not only helps reduce the energy needed for data centers, which allows a reduction in costs of energy from a solely profit-oriented mindset, but also reduces the environmental impact of data centers. It also allows greater cyber security as it is harder to remove all technology from the oil basins than it is to hack a data center and shut down the power.

Decentralized Data Centers

Nonetheless, flooding, liquid infiltration, liquid filtering, cleanliness, and human safety are some of the difficulties that liquid cooling must overcome. Reusing the heat produced by power-fueled technological hardware could be a way to maximize the energy utilized by our IT systems, in addition to liquid cooling techniques.

Quentin Laurens, the director of external affairs at Qarnot, promotes the idea of using the wasteful heat generated by data centers as a power source to heat buildings, swimming pools, or industrial sites. Powering boilers with excess heat requires the decentralization of data centers. Rather than concentrating data centers in a single location, Qarnot promotes scattering the centers and exploiting the heat generated by the data center's multi-purpose properties.

Efficiency Indicators

There are efficiency indicators that can be used by organizations, such as power usage effectiveness (PUE). PUE is computed as the difference between the power used by the IT infrastructure and the power entering the data center. This results in a straightforward ratio that becomes closer to 1.0 as efficiency gets closer to 100 percent and data center infrastructure efficiency is given as the matching percentage. By using less energy for non-IT purposes, such as less lighting and cooling in non-IT spaces, and implementing other energy-efficient building designs, businesses can increase the PUE ratio.

Greater Awareness Needed

Grasping how data centers function allows for greater awareness and incentivizes energy waste reduction behaviors such as deleting emails and downloading movies rather than streaming them. Learning how digital behaviors pile up from the standpoint of an individual footprint will then elevate the potential for innovative data center design strategy, especially since the use of data centers is predicted to rise.

A "typical business" user sends 135kg of CO2e–carbon dioxide equivalent–annually, which is the equivalent of driving 200 miles in a family car, or slightly under the distance from Brussels to London. However, this was in the pre-Covid-19 era. The technology requirements of the ordinary business person have evolved with fewer in-person office encounters, more time may now be spent talking online.

Nonetheless, assuming a constant rise in the use of technology cannot be seen as the only way forward. Reducing hours spent online and reducing consumer practices may also become increasingly normal or considered a way of life aspired by many.


Understanding the energy usage of data centers is often ignored or misunderstood. This article has provided an explanation of data centers and focused on the various cooling methods used within data center structures. Discussing cooling methods due to excess heat generated by data centers is a topic of concern as data centers require energy for IT and for its cooling. 

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