Irish system operator EirGrid’s analysis predicts that power usage from Dublin’s thriving data centre sector could account for 31% of all demand by 2027. Could floating, water-cooled data centres help ease pressure on Ireland’s grid and reduce carbon footprint?
Nautilus Data Technologies has been given the go-ahead for a floating data centre in Limerick, in the Republic of Ireland, which will use cold water from the sea at Shannon Foynes port to keep servers cool – significantly reducing carbon emissions and energy usage.
The 6-8 MW facility will have a power usage effectiveness (PUE) of 1.15, all year round, and will be one of the most energy efficient facilities in the sector.
By adapting cooling techniques already widely used on ships and thermal power plants, Nautilus aims to minimise the environmental impact of the data centre industry, initially focusing on Ireland and other key hubs across the globe – including the Netherlands, Virginia and California in the US, and Singapore.
In Ireland, rapid data centre development, particularly in the Dublin area, has put a significant strain on the grid. Irish system operator EirGrid points out that data centres need a lot of power and can require the same amount of energy as a large town. Its latest analysis predicts that demand from data centres could account for 31% of all demand by 2027.
Finding energy efficient methods of operating data centres will be key to supporting data centre growth in Ireland and this is where the Nautilus technology could have a significant contribution to supporting future development.
Claimed to increase cooling efficiency by up to 80%, the Nautilus cooling approach is achieved without evaporating or consuming any potable water, while returning the water to its original source with negligible thermal impact.
By eliminating the need for energy-intensive air-cooling equipment and water treatment chemicals, the Nautilus technology is reported to reduce operating costs by up to 30%, while carbon emissions and air pollution are also cut by 30%.
“We need to rethink the way we build and operate data centres, if we are to keep pace with the rising demand for services – the current method is unsustainable. Many data centres are air-conditioned, in some form, and not very energy efficient,” says James Connaughton, president and CEO at Nautilus Data Technologies. “They consume large amounts of water, produce waste-water chemicals, and use significant amounts of refrigerant; there is a complex environmental footprint associated with the traditional approach.”
He believes that Ireland is still one of the best places in the world to have digital infrastructure: “We see a great growth opportunity for the data centre sector in the West of Ireland and believe this to be as strong, if not stronger than Dublin,” Connaughton continues.
Each Nautilus water-cooled data centre is housed within a waterproof, dust-proof facility with NEMA 3 rating, F3 tornado rating and F3 hurricane rating. Internally, the facility has an extensive monitoring and leak prevention system for all piping.
“Because this type of cooling simply involves pumps and pipes, all of our operating systems are inside the facility,” adds Connaughton. “There are no external operating systems, which adds to the level of security. As cooling is brought right to the back of the rack, the servers can also be installed much closer together.”
According to Nautilus, the use of this cooling approach results in one third of the spatial footprint, with up to five times the server capacity. Higher rack densities, coupled with reduced energy usage and faster deployment, are among the key benefits for operators.
The data centres are designed to be either located close to the water, on land, or can operate on the water, while moored on a barge. As Nautilus can pre-manufacture the entire data centre on a barge and deliver it to the port, the facility can be built while the site is being developed.
“Instead of undertaking the data centre build-out and site development, in succession, over a period of two years, this can be completed in parallel in under a year.
“This speeds up deployment, while the siting of the data centres also opens up significant opportunities – port infrastructures exist in both developed and emerging markets, around the world, and we can repurpose this and add value. Ultimately, this will sustain local jobs, as industrialisation shifts,” comments Connaughton.
He believes that the approach could also offer significant advantages in areas such as the Middle East:
“Our cooling system can efficiently generate hot water which can lower the cost of desalination, or other industrial applications. We have the advantage of co-location with other industrial infrastructure to improve efficiency.”
Hundreds of visitors have viewed the company’s floating data centre technology, in the US, and have commented on its simplicity and quietness in operation.
Connaughton now predicts there will be significant interest in Ireland, with the technology appealing to a number of data centre markets – from hyperscale and colocation, to the specialised AI space, which requires higher capacity hardware.
“As we look to the future, with the advent of high-performance computing, conventional air-conditioning will not be adequate to cool these new systems. Our method is an easy way to cool these more powerful servers,” Connaughton concludes. “There is no doubt in my mind that the next data centres will be water cooled.”
From prototype to commercialisation
Nautilus was the first company to successfully launch a waterborne data centre prototype in 2015 incorporating its technology on a vessel, demonstrating additional capability for large-scale modularity, mobility and flexibility in data centre deployment in both developed and emerging markets. In 2017, the company received an injection of investment worth $10m (£7.8m) from Keppel Data Centres. The company went on to build its first commercial data centre, offering power capacity of approximately 6MW, at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in northern California.