Under the microscope: a scientific approach to cooling


The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is a UK government body that carries out civil research in science and engineering, and funds UK research in areas including particle physics, nuclear physics, space science and astronomy.

The council’s world-class facilities help support circa 1,700 particle physicists, nuclear physicists and astronomers from more than 50 universities and academic research institutes in the UK, Europe, Japan and the US, and each year it welcome 3,500 users who carry out more than 2,000 experiments. The council coordinates research on some of the most significant challenges facing society, such as future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security.

The council needed to install a number of high density (HD) servers at its site in Didcot, Oxfordshire, to support its research activities, and required a HD cooling solution to achieve optimum conditions within the facility, while achieving industry leading energy effciency.

Sudlows recommended installing a number of 20-30kW rear door coolers and a 390kW coolant distribution unit (CDU).

The CDUs contain a heat exchanger that transitions from room chilled water to a warmer, secondary chilled water supply that feeds into the rear door coolers. The benefit of this system is that no condensation can occur in the rear door coils, as the air is always kept above dewpoint.

Additionally, each rear door cooler has its own microprocessor controller that ensures that the system is ‘passive’–  ie the temperature leaving the rack through the coil is the same as the temperature entering the rack. This means that all heat energy is absorbed by the rear door cooler and adds no additional load to the room.

A two-port valve on the secondary chilled water supply to the rear door coolers ensures that suffcient chilled water can enter the coil at any time. The pump set in each CDU ensures that the inverter in the pump provides enough water to suit demand.

Once fully installed, all water  flow rates were rebalanced to ensure that the correct primary  flow rates were achieved. For this to happen, the entire system had to be rebalanced while the data centre was live.

Gary Frith, mechanical services director at Sudlows, comments: “Sudlows’ mechanical team has delivered a technical design that has provided an optimum cooling solution, all undertaken while the data centre was in active operation.”

The newly implemented system effectively manages the additional heat generated by the installation of the new HD servers, all while delivering maximum system energy efficiency. The flexibility offered to the client ensures that all hosting opportunities can be considered. 

Sudlows has now worked with the STFC for several years, across a variety of its operational sites. This latest contract, worth more than £500K, was completed within six months.


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