India is indeed at the cusp of a data centre evolution. Mobile data traffic, emerging services and technologies such as streaming, cloud-based services, blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and virtual reality are poised to boost demand for data services. The pandemic has also fuelled video conferencing and file sharing through cloud services.

All this has led to the mushrooming of data centres which are large buildings that provide space, power, and cooling for IT infrastructure and are filled with servers and storage systems.

“By 2025, India is likely to host 183 data centres with about 24 million sq. ft and at least 1,752 MW of total IT capacity, up from 138 data centres spanning 11 million sq. ft and having 737 MW of IT capacity as of March 2022, according to a report by US consultants ANAROCK-Binswanger.

For all the benefits that technology provides us, data centres remain the digital world’s gigantic energy guzzlers. They are several times more energy-intensive than office buildings. Data centres and data transmission networks are responsible for one per cent of energy-related GHG emissions.

A data centre can be as big as several football fields with thousands of servers running over 365 days a year. Energy is needed to power data centres and for cooling.

By 2025, global demand will be 180 zettabytes – the equivalent of every single person alive today needing 48 laptops for data storage!

Focus on ecosystem

The government’s focus on creating an ecosystem for sustainability has an impact on the data centre industry. This has led to the need for more advanced and energy-efficient cooling solutions to maintain the optimal performance of data centres.

That presents, potentially, a huge opportunity for the “greening” of data centres.

“Seen from a climate and energy point of view, the main challenge is cooling, since around 40 per cent of a data centre’s power is used to cool its servers. The storage and processing require much more electricity than web engine searches of yesteryear,” said Ravichandran Purushothaman, President, Danfoss India, a leading player in energy-efficient solutions.

Cost-effective tech

Cooling techniques that are cost-effective and consume less energy are expected to be adopted by data centre operators. According to an industry report, the data centre cooling market in India has the potential to grow by $775.85 million by 2025, and the market’s growth momentum will accelerate at a CAGR of 22.49 per cent.

Several new trends have emerged in the data centre cooling sector, including the monitoring of conditions, the integration of energy systems, the use of renewable sources, and real-time energy consumption monitoring.

Cloud-based monitoring and control systems provide real-time data on equipment performance, energy consumption, and environmental conditions. Using AI and machine learning tools, this system provides a holistic view of how various energy-efficient products work together to provide overall cooling. These improvements in monitoring technology and systems increase efficiency, reduce downtime and lower energy costs.

“Data centres can be cooled up to 30 per cent more efficiently and excess heat generated by them can be recovered with the use of chillers and heat pumps with Danfoss technology. This new chiller’s capability of handling higher water temperatures is better enabled by the advent of oil-free compressors like Turbocor, says Purushothaman.

Danfoss’ headquarters in Nordborg, Denmark is an example of this concept. In 2015, fossil fuels accounted for 100 per cent of its heating. It is now on the verge of achieving CO2 neutrality. By 2024, excess heat from Danfoss data centres will provide 25 per cent of the total heat supply for factories and offices covering 2.5 lakh square metres.

Hybrid centres

Thus, the heat captured from the data centre can be distributed to a local neighbourhood, reducing data centre energy costs, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The data centres of the future will be hybrid where the best of two worlds can be combined: the cloud and the on-site data centre. And the excess heat can be utilised in energy grids where it is produced.

As data centres consume large amounts of energy, using renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower can help reduce their carbon footprint and lower their operating costs. Data centre automation can help optimise resource utilisation and reduce human error and increased efficiency.

Danfoss India is introducing high-efficiency oil-free chillers along chiller manufacturers to cater to high-efficiency needs of data centres. These chillers will use green refrigerant and will have very low maintenance to ensure data centres reach zero downtime, Purushothaman adds.

Several major data centre and telecom network operators have set/achieved targets to use 100 per cent clean electricity on an annual matching basis. More ambitious approaches to carbon-free operations can have greater environmental benefits, pointed out a recent report by IEA.