By Guy D’Hauwers, Director, HPC and AI, atNorth
It has been estimated that the digital carbon footprint accounts for nearly 3.7% of all greenhouse gas emissions, with current estimates stating that data storage and transmission from data centres uses 1% of total global electricity. As organisations across Europe, the UK and US face increasingly tough targets to reduce their carbon footprints and provide a better pathway to sustainability in the coming years, many have begun to take a very deep look at their processes and infrastructures in order to accelerate sustainability across their operations. The IT department is no stranger to this, where innovative approaches to the underlying technology and assets are crucial, given the significant impact IT can have on the environment.
Research points to data centres as an extremely carbon hungry digital ecosystem – in 2019, it was estimated that data centres worldwide used more than 2% of the world’s electricity, generating the same volume of carbon emissions (in terms of fuel consumption) as the global airline industry. As data hungry digitalisation continues at break-neck speed, organisations must pay more attention to the environmental footprint they are creating – the design, development and management of today’s data centre operations is critical to this success.
atNorth uses its recently launched SWE01 Data Centre in Sweden as an example of how data centre design continues to innovate with sustainability at the core, while providing insights into the everyday challenges, opportunities and key factors that have helped to shape this next generation, state-of-the-art facility.
Next generation data centre design for HPC workloads and energy efficiency
With sustainability at the heart of all its operations, atNorth’s data centres run on 100% renewable energy resources and support circular economy principles. All sites leverage innovative design, power efficiency, and intelligent cluster operations to provide long-term infrastructure deployments with tailor-made solutions that enable businesses to calculate, simulate, train, and visualise data workloads in an efficient, cost-optimised way.
In undertaking the design, development, and build of the newest data centre facility in Stockholm, Sweden, atNorth wanted to ensure it was going one step further in its mission to be a leading net zero partner for sustainable IT data centre solutions. The SWE01 site’s strategic location in Stockholm was two-fold. First, there is a growing need to provide European customers with a scalable next-generation data centre specifically designed to accommodate high infrastructure density for computationally heavy applications such as simulations, risk calculations, and artificial intelligence. Secondly, Sweden is renowned for its renewable infrastructure and, as such, was best placed to be home to an innovative project like this, which would not only be the first data centre in Europe to support heavy HPC workloads, but that would also draw on heat outputs from the data centre to support the surrounding community.
Innovation is never without its challenges
Understanding the goal to address the changing needs of today’s modern business, this build needed to ensure shorter lead times for customer facilities to serve their needs and help them accelerate time to market. atNorth’s Stockholm data centre needed to have a modular build approach to do just this, allowing customers to meet the capacity demanded by the market with the option to scale and expand over time.
With increasing focus on sustainability, the SWE01 centre has also been designed to operate with the lowest carbon footprint possible. The Nordics are an ideal location for data centre builds due to its mild climate and abundance of renewable energy. And, Sweden is well poised to provide the right infrastructure and government commitment to help deliver both sustainability and circular economy principles in the data centre industry.
This is critical to the future design and development of today and tomorrow’s data centre. Designed from the ground up as a heat recovery site, this facility is unique in its use of efficient heat recovery for both air cooled and liquid cooled IT infrastructures. All the residual heat from the data centre is recycled in collaboration with Stockholm Exergi, whose district heating plant is in proximity, where the excess heat generated from the new data centre could heat up to 20,000 apartments. The new site operates on 100% renewable energy, making it extremely energy efficient.
Innovation does not come without challenges – the build design required a new approach to be adopted in order to facilitate the transportation and supply the heat from the data halls towards the heat recovery modules. With the heat recovery design, the exact location of the site and its proximity to the central heating station was also a key consideration to allow for heat to be transported from the centre to the recovery station in the most optimal way.
This ability to recycle and reuse heat outputs from the data centre facility has been instrumental in paving the way for better, more sustainably-minded data centre design in future. The construction of the build, using local experts in partnership with atNorth’s design and project management team, allowed for rapid buildout time as well as the ability to accommodate for atNorth’s modular approach and phased build plan.
The key to the future of data centre design
Don’t underestimate the power of collaboration and agility. The team at atNorth had this dream to design and build one of the largest, most sustainable HPC data centres in Europe. However, no truly innovative design or build comes without challenges. The company had to undertake this project and all its complexities remotely throughout COVID-19. Its success is credited to its teams and partners alike who have been flexible, adaptable and agile in every way to help the atNorth deliver this state-of-the-art facility that puts sustainability square at the heart of IT and sets a real benchmark for the future.