Microsoft today increased its commitment to saving water and energy in its data centers, and proposed new cooling technologies and strategies that may push energy-hungry servers beyond their current limits.The company’s latest environmental commitment comes at a time when it plans to substantially expand the number of data centers it operates around the world, a move that may put more pressure on the arid communities unless the company finds a way to reduce water use.
Microsoft plans to reduce water use in its data centers by 95% by 2024, with the goal of “ultimately” eliminating water use. This builds on the promise Microsoft made last year, which means it will add more water than it uses in its operations. In 2020, Microsoft also promised to achieve negative carbon growth within the same period, which means that it plans to reduce and store more carbon dioxide than it releases.
But the biggest promise involves the data center. Data centers like Microsoft are crowded with servers that enable people to store files, send messages, shop online, and play games. All these activities consume a lot of energy and generate heat. Overheating will affect the performance and reliability of the server, but usingair conditionerUse will increase power consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. It is possible to use water to cool servers, but in many arid regions where data centers operate, water has become an increasingly scarce resource.
A typical data center uses about the same amount of water as a city with a population of about 30,000 to 40,000, or about 3 to 5 million gallons of water per day. Microsoft’s data center currently uses adiabatic cooling, which relies on outside air to reduce internal temperature. This is a system that uses less electricity than air conditioning and less water than cooling towers. But when the temperature rises above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the outside air is useless. At this point, the evaporative cooling system is activated, and it uses water. It works like a “swamp cooler”, cooling the air by pushing it over or through a glass screen soaked in water.
Microsoft today revealed that it plans to rely on two main strategies to achieve its water-saving goals. First, it studied the performance of its servers at higher temperatures and found that it can set higher limits on the time it takes for the evaporative cooling system to start. In the colder regions of the world, including Amsterdam, Dublin, Virginia and Chicago, data centers in these higher latitude regions can completely get rid of the need for water in the next few years.
However, Microsoft’s data centers in desert areas, where water shortages are a bigger problem. In order to reduce its water footprint in these hot and dry climates to zero, Microsoft plans to adopt a new way to cool servers by immersing them in a fluorocarbon-based liquid. When the servers are working, the heat they generate causes the liquid to boil when it reaches 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). The boiling liquid removes the heat from the server and turns into rising vapor. The steam hits the lid of the cooling water tank, condenses, and then falls back into the water tank. This process is called two-phase liquid immersion, which creates a closed-loop cooling system that reduces the use of water and electricity while obtaining a cooling effect.