Massive growth in data centre development requires specialist installations

By Stefan Sander, CEO, Two Oceans Air Conditioning

The global data centre market is expected to grow by 15% per year between now and 2025 and for South Africa alone some reports are predicting growth of 50%. The key drivers of this growth are the acceleration of edge computing, growth in the adoption of the Internet of Things solutions, increasing traffic online and improved and expanding data collection by a variety of companies in diverse industries.

Companies like Teraco, Microsoft, Dimension Data and Amazon have announced plans for data centre expansion in South Africa, driving activity in a strained commercial and industrial construction environment.
Research company Xalam Analytics estimates that local providers brought online more than 50MW of dedicated data centre IT load capacity between 2017 and 2019 as global content providers expanded their networks into the African continent. This is nearly seven times more capacity than was deployed in the rest of Africa over the same period. The company forecasts South Africa’s data centre IT load supply to essentially double over the next two years, from a relatively high base. “Including self-managed facilities (i.e. cloud providers building their own data centres), the sector’s supply capacity will essentially triple in three years,” Xalam stated in a report published earlier this year.

Data centres require specific solutions for HVAC and the massive growth is driving innovation in this field to meet the exacting standards set by global and local companies.

Data centres – essentially vast spaces filled with computer servers that provide networking and internet-based services – are operational around the clock, every single day, and consume a vast amount of electricity to power the servers and process all the data. This generates a lot of heat and requires superior cooling installations to protect the many electrical components. Most servers are set to automatically shut down if the ambient temperature rises to a preset unacceptable level. This can cause severe business interruption, which makes the correct HVAC installation a critical component in the operation of a data centre.

It also requires different solutions in one building as the HVAC required for server rooms differs from the HVAC needed in other areas like offices where employees are stationed.

Beyond the operational requirements, managing energy costs is a key focus when HVAC systems for data centres are designed as this cost is regularly flagged in overall operational budgets.

To address these operational demands, different options need to be considered.

HVAC solutions, like other technologies, are constantly evolving and, in the future, will increasingly include the use of Internet of Things (IoT) technology to deliver the best functionality while reducing energy costs.
At the design phase, depending on the specifics of a data centre, these solutions include:

– Computer Room Air Conditioning Units (CRAC’s) that typically use a refrigerant or water-based cooling system.
– Installing hot and cold aisles, which separates the fresh cold air stream from the hot discharge air.
– Cold air containment. The cold air fills the cold aisle and then the hot discharge fills the rest of the room with the computer room air conditioning units (CRAC) units pulling this in for reconditioning
– Air-cooled chillers, modified for quick start-up, matched with close control CRACs.
– Air handling units for comfort cooling.
– Integrated Building Management Systems to control the entire HVAC plant, utilizing a Tridium backbone connected to all equipment at the data communication level.
– Ventilation and fire damper control to the complete energy centre housing generators and rotary uninterruptable power supplies.
– Water-cooled screw chillers coupled to open-circuit cooling towers.

A critical factor to bear in mind for any HVAC applications at data centres is the requirement that there will be no downtime. This means any design needs to factor in full redundancy, which often means 100% duplication.
TOAC has developed expertise and innovated new solutions at the data centres for several major international companies that have come to South Africa but also local companies such as ABSA, Telkom, and Vodacom. Completing a data centre on time and under major time frame constraints require a strong team of people with different individual skills to deliver the various components such projects demand. TOAC has mastered this collaboration within the organisation to successfully complete the diverse requirements of each data centre.