Canadian winters are challenging for some, but they have their advantages. In addition to producing the world’s best hockey players, Canada has become host to a growing number of data centres that take advantage of the cold climate to mitigate the extensive costs of cooling their server infrastructure.
As server farms continue to pack more computing power, they have become
significant consumers of energy. The proportion of the cost consumed by
cooling is significant, and estimated to be as high as one half of the
Managing the significant heat that semi-conductors generate is consuming
a growing portion of the cost of operating a data centre. Facilities in
many parts of Canada are able to employ a technology called “free
cooling” to reduce this by as much as 50 per cent. Essentially, these
systems employ an additional cooling circuit that uses outdoor air to
supplement the work done by the more energy-intensive components of the
Information technology services company Fujitsu Canada opened a facility
in November to take advantage of what Canada has to offer. Free
cooling, however, is only part of the picture. Access to cheap, clean,
reliable energy is also a magnet for investors looking to build these
power-hungry facilities, some of which consume roughly as much energy as
a small city.
The combination of cheap power and cold weather puts Canada in a
similar league with Sweden and Finland, which have recently become the
hosts of huge data centres built by Facebook and Google, respectively.
believe these facilities are only the tip of the iceberg. In the
increasingly common cloud computing scenario where companies outsource
their computing to remote providers, Canadian data centres can serve
markets anywhere in the world. Market intelligence firm IDC estimates
the sheer volume of data managed by businesses will grow 50 times over
the next 10 years, and the number of servers needed to keep up with this
growth will increase by 49 per cent in the next two years.
the biggest challenges for data centre operators is to convince
customers that their facility is a safe place to entrust data that is
often the lifeblood of their business. Infrastructure has to be
operating almost 100 per cent of the time, and customers need the
confidence that their data won’t be lost or compromised.
According to IBM, data custody is a whole
other dimension as to why Canada is attractiveIn this
respect, Canada holds an advantage over the United States because many
companies, particularly Canadian ones, are concerned about the U.S.
Patriot Act, which allows the U.S. government to intercept and examine
data stored in the United States without a search warrant.
Free cooling systems use a device
called an economizer, a specialized heat exchanger that uses cool
outdoor air to help chill water or glycol that, in turn, circulates to
the server racks. This reduces the load on compressors and pumps, which
are the most significant consumers of energy within the cooling system.
According to data from computer room cooling manufacturer Liebert Corp.,
a business of Emerson Electric Co., this arrangement can slash the
cooling bill by as much as 50 per cent.
The Globe & Mail, December 20, 2012