The Hidden Foundations of the Digital World: How Datacentres Stay Cool.


People spend around 6 hours and 42 minutes every single day online. Suffice to say we have, as a whole, become reliant on the internet for so many things. Services, goods, information--we want it all, we want it at the tap of a button, and we want it now. But even though we're heavy internet users as a whole, not many of us consider how our connectivity is supported. That is, it's physical presence.

Of course, the cloud isn't actually a cloud. Huge data centres across the world keep our digital world connected and powered--the biggest of which reportedly consumes enough energy to power a city with a population of I million. These data centres are crucial for us to stream videos, download music, and post on social media. If they crash, sudden outages quickly spark irritation from customers, as British Airways found out in 2017 when a worldwide IT failure of their systems lead to flight cancellations and delays over a bank holiday weekend. The data centre failure was attributed by the CEO of British Airways to a power surge and a back-up failure, but UK Power Networks denied any power issues in the area that would have caused this.

Other sources speculate that overheating was the culprit. The British Airways data centres were built in the 1980s and were not built with today's huge internet usage in mind. As a result, the building is not equipped to deal with the excessive heat generated by this day and age's data usage. Thus, the equipment shut down to protect itself from the heat.

Large-scale IT downtime is chaos for companies and users. Back in 2013, overheating shut down IT kingpin Microsoft's data centre for a whopping 16 hours. So, what measures do the world's biggest data centres take to ensure their servers don't overheat?

The problem of heat.

Using energy always brings the issue of heat management to the foreground. Greenpeace's Click Clean 2016 report outlines that the IT sector consumes around 7% of the world's electricity, with this expected to triple between 2016 and 2020. There is a lot of pressure on IT companies to avoid the use of 'dirty energy' and commit to renewable energy; three tech giants committed to 100% renewably powered internet in 2012 (Apple, Google, and Facebook). Data centres need to be able to run efficiently and sustainably. EkkoSense ran a study on 128 data centres in the UK and found 78% of them were running too hot. Data centres that are running too hot are, potentially, consuming too much energy or...

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