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July 18, 2022updated 20 Jul 2022 2:03pm

UK heatwave: Why data centres should hold up for now

Extreme temperatures may increase cooling costs but the effect will be short-lived, analyst predicts.

By Sophia Waterfield

Data centre operators will be keeping a close eye on rising temperatures this week, as the ongoing UK heatwave puts their cooling infrastructure under pressure. Newer facilities should be able to handle temperatures of up to 40°C, however, and any increase in cooling costs should be short-lived, an expert told Tech Monitor.

Nevertheless, extreme temperatures are predicted to become more frequent in future, and data centre operators are seeking more energy efficient IT equipment to keep their data centres cool.

UK heatwave could affect datacentres. Image shows supercomputer inside a server room data center for cloud computing - stock photo A large hallway with supercomputers inside a server room data center. Technology used for cloud computing and network security.
The UK heatwave 2022 could impact data centres if temperatures go higher than 40°C. (Photo by luza studios/iStock)

How will the UK heatwave affect data centres?

Data centres need to stay within a certain temperature range to remain efficient. US standards body ASHRAE recommends that enterprise servers and storage equipment should operate in temperatures between 15°C and 32°C. The heat produced by this equipment means that data centres need to be cooled, typically by cooling the air, and rising external temperatures put pressure on this cooling equipment. This can result in increased electricity costs, or in rare cases, system outages.

Newly built data centres can cope with temperatures between -40°C and 40°C, says Mai Barakat, data centre infrastructure and services analyst at S&P Global Market Intelligence, as operators have built their facilities to be as energy efficient as possible.

Older data centres may struggle during the UK heatwave, however, which could result in increased energy costs. “The older data centres are probably going to need extra monitoring just to keep track of energy consumption,” Barakat explained.

If the temperature exceeds 40°C, however, even new data centres could see a drop in efficiency, causing cooling costs to increase. Barakat estimates that costs could increase by 1% to 2%. This could be a noticeable cost increase, as non-domestic electricity prices have grown by 29% in the last year, but the effect is likely to be short-lived.

“Inevitably the prices are gonna go up, but I don’t think it will have [a] dramatic effect on overall costs for them because it’s only going to be a few days of the year when that’s going to happen,” Barakat explained.

Is the UK heatwave a sign of what’s to come for data centres?

The likelihood of temperatures of 40°C and above is growing, according to researchers at the Met Office, and is likely to increase throughout this century. With the exception of Scandinavia (home to a growing number of data centres), Europe is likely to experience ‘extremely dry conditions‘ several times per decade by the end of the Century.

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Investments that data centre operators are making in energy efficiency will help protect them from these extreme weather conditions, Barakat told Tech Monitor. “They’ll implement strategies such as allowing for liquid or air-cooling to specific areas,” she explained. “Or they’ll have an AI in place to monitor energy consumption and temperatures within specific areas of the data centre.”

But there is a limit to the efficiency that can be achieved by upgrading data centre facilities, Barakat added, and the focus is moving to the efficiency of IT equipment itself. “Data centres use a lot of energy – they’re not the most climate-friendly building,” she said. “They’ve already become more sustainable in many different ways and I think that we’ll start to look towards IT efficiency to further make data centres sustainable.”

Read more: Net zero data centres: Decarbonising digital infrastructure

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