Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Saturday, December 3, 2022

Chilly UK Weather Cools Latest Rackspace Datacenter 

Rackspace recently broke ground on a 130,000 square foot, 10 megawatt datacenter, in the West Sussex region of England, south of London. The US-based cloud and hosting provider together with datacenter specialists Digital Realty Trust are counting on the locale's chilly clime to provide free cooling to its massive server complex.

This is story that is becoming more common as warehouse-scale datacenter companies, like Microsoft, Facebook, and Yahoo, face the challenges of maintaining massive operations where cooling can comprise up to half of total energy use. To reduce operational costs, Web-scale outfits are increasingly prioritizing cheap, preferably green, power. One of the most enticing solutions is some version of free or near-free cooling. Instead of bringing the cold to the datacenter, why not bring the datacenter to the cold? It is what drew Google and Facebook to build massive datacenter campuses in Northern Europe, with Google using ocean water and Facebook using artic air to chill their datacenters in the region.

High energy efficiency and a competitive cost per kilowatt were the main drivers of the latest Rackspace project. The datacenter will use roof-mounted indirect evaporative air cooling units from British firm Excool, eliminating the need for power-hungry mechanical chillers. A similar system deployed by PEER1 for its Portsmouth, UK datacenter, helped that cloud provider reduce its energy consumption by 85 percent.

The infrastructure for the Rackspace datacenter will be based on the Open Compute Project (OCP) blueprint with the servers built to OCP specs by Taiwanese system maker Quanta.

Located on a 15 acre campus in Crawley, West Sussex, the site is being erected in stages ahead of demand. Once complete, the facility will comprise four data suites with a total power capacity of 10 megawatts. The first phase of construction, now underway, calls for 6 megawatts across two data suites to be up and running by early 2015.

The Crawley project is aiming for a power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.17 or less. For comparison, the average US datacenter maintains a PUE of about 2.0, which means that for every kilowatt hour of electricity used to run servers, storage, and networking equipment, another two kilowatt hours are being consumed by overhead and cooling. (Getting that down to close to a 1:1 ratio is quite an achievement, and something all hyperscale datacenter operators are striving to do.) The partners expect that the green design will yield an 80 percent savings in energy associated with cooling.

"Efficiency was . . . incredibly important," said Mark Roenigk, Rackspace COO, in a prepared statement. "We factored in everything from minimizing landfill and the impact on the environment during construction itself to using more efficient LED lighting and environmentally sourced paint. We are very proud to say we're involved in building one of the greenest data centers in the UK; it's a huge achievement."

Other green aspects of the design include using a roof rainwater harvesting system to ensure that consumption of public water was kept to a minimum.

The facility will employ a modular approach, where the cooling solution, generators, UPS and switchgear, and transformers are to be fabricated off site and then craned into position to enhance build quality and reduce deployment time. These elements will all be sited on the roof to maximize the available space.

The Crawley site will be connected to the Rackspace London metro fiber ring, using dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) technology. Once operational, it will be tied to Rackspace's Slough facility and to the main exchanges in London.

The datacenter will be available to all Rackspace customers, regardless of their home region, although Rackspace expects the majority of demand for capacity in the new center to originate from the UK and Europe.

About the author: Tiffany Trader

With over a decade’s experience covering the HPC space, Tiffany Trader is one of the preeminent voices reporting on advanced scale computing today.

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