Using wind to cool the many planned racks of data servers, a new Hewlett-Packard data center in England will be very cool and very green. The center that was not originally begun by HP is huge, being started by EDS, and designed to be able to grow much larger over the next few years.


From the outside, Hewlett-Packard‘s newest data center looks like a massive, well-secured loading dock, devoid of logos and surrounded by a robust barbed-wired fence in a nondescript industrial park.

The low-profile approach is intentional, as HP’s Wynyard center is intended to hold the most valuable asset for many companies: their data. HP will use the data center to compete with companies such as IBM for IT services and management contracts, a growing source of revenue that requires secure data centers.

HP is hoping several of the environmentally friendly design features of the 360,000-square-foot Wynyard facility will push it ahead. It is HP’s most energy efficient data center that it has built, said Maurice Julian, U.K. facilities project director. Half of the facility is now complete, comprising four data halls, with room to create four more data halls as demand dictates.

The data center was originally started by IT outsourcer EDS, which was then acquired by HP for $13.9 billion in May 2008. The building sits in a blustery and chilly area about eight miles west of the North Sea in the northeast of England. It is entirely air-cooled: HP has built eight 2.1-meter stainless steel and plastic intake fans to draw cool air.

The air runs through a massive bank of modular filters to remove dust and other contaminants before it circulates in a massive cavity, called a plenum, below its data center halls.

The air is forced up though the floor and runs over the front of server racks before being exhausted. The system keeps the hall at a constant 24C (75.2F). When it is cold outside, some of the exhausted heat is recirculated with the outside air to maintain the right temperature.

Obviously they are trying to make the place as human-friendly as possible, because data centers used to be chilled down into the low 60s (Fahrenheit) if at all possible – I remember entering one with my grandfather, at JPL in Pasadena, California, where he worked. Sweaters were required after a time in the area.

In Billingham, the outside temperature only rises above 24C for about 20 hours a year, but the facility still needed traditional chillers for those occasions, Julian said. To run a closed system, data center operators can close the louvers that let in outside air.

“It’s an ideal climate for this type of solution,” Julian said. “We’re moving large volumes of air at a low speed.”

Installing chillers in addition to building the natural air cooling added about 6 percent to the cost of building the data center, Julian said. The extra cost should be recouped in as few as two years due to the power savings.

Power is one of the highest costs for a data center. A facility’s efficiency is measured in PUE, or Power Usage Effectiveness, which is a ratio that compares the total power used by a facility to the power used by its equipment.

Running at a full load, HP has calculated that the Wynyard facility has a 1.2 PUE, meaning that for every 1.2 watt of electricity used to power IT equipment, 1 watt is used for cooling and other facility needs. That makes it HP’s most efficient data center.

Julian said each of the four data halls actually have a 1.16 PUE on their own, but that increases slightly to take into account electricity consumption in other areas, such as the 20,000-square foot office facilities.

Perhaps in the future, all data centers will be built using natural methods of cooling. In many places, there might not be cool air, but water, or even soil could be used to cool the data center. In the case of ample and nearby water, water-to-air heat exchangers can be used, and in the case where nothing else is available, the ground can be used, as the earth gets abundantly cooler just a few feet below the hottest topsoil, and an exchange system can be effectively built using that lower temperature below ground as a heatsink (in the truest sense).


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