16 Aug 2022

View from the COO - Managing the challenges of a changing climate

Readers of the Kao Data blog will no doubt be aware that it’s been a while since I put pen to paper. It’s been an incredibly busy, but also positive last few months that have seen me being involved in a whole variety of strategic and operational developments across our expanding data centre portfolio.

Most recently of course were the challenges brought on by the hot weather in the UK across July, and obviously those two days especially when temperatures soared to 40 degrees and beyond. Like the members of my household, and I suspect most of the population of the UK, data centres aren’t generally very comfortable at 40 degrees and as you would expect, my team and I tracked our cooling performance very closely during this period with daily reports across the entire data centre estate.

Thankfully, all systems performed as expected with no reported issues and our customers received 100% uptime, which is testament to good design, first class infrastructure (and the suppliers of that) and a Kao Data engineering and operational team that leave nothing to chance. The old adage that teams are only as good as the sum of their parts is very true and at Kao I’m pleased to say we’re recruited very, very well as we’ve grown.

The freak hot weather we experienced, and the droughts we are seeing today in the South East, together with the likelihood that due to climate change days like those will become more common in the UK also validated our decision earlier this year to review our approach to indirect evaporative cooling (IEC) by introducing some refrigerant systems to our data centres. As my colleague Richard highlights in his excellent blog it may seem a bit counter intuitive to add refrigerant into an IEC system that was originally designed without mechanical cooling, but as the operational environment we find ourselves in continues to evolve so does the need to advance the infrastructure supporting the data centre. This enables us as a data centre operator to guarantee the ASHRAE recommended window with confidence all year round, and even across extraordinary days like those last month.

Naturally we have to consider the responsible use of refrigerant as part of our wider sustainability plan and sustainability remains central to our decision-making process. Having a carbon neutral facility supported by 100% renewable energy turns our focus towards deriving a point of equilibrium between PUE and WUE, which in many respects is a trade-off, with optimising both being the true engineering challenge. Considering the importance of water as natural resource and the challenges we are seeing across the South East today this move enables us to both dramatically reduce our water usage – lowering our WUE, while at the same time enabling a 48% reduction in footprint per kW of cooling.

The perceived ‘little details’ like that really matter when you look at the bigger picture. Given the long lifecycle of a data centre facility, engineering decisions made now to solve these issues will have an impact for many years to come, and being able to lower our water usage, squeeze more of our customers compute in, and increase their resiliency at the same time is a win, win situation for my team and I.

On the subject of ASHRAE, I was delighted to attend their excellent annual conference in Toronto back in June. For nearly two decades, ASHRAE has been addressing critical issues within the data centre industry and is the leading international authority on data centre design, construction and operations. Technical Committee (TC) 9.9, particularly, is concerned with all aspects of mission critical facilities, data centres, technology spaces, and electronic equipment/systems. Founding members of TC9.9, Don Beaty and Roger Schmidt, were instrumental in developing guidelines, Thermal Guidelines for Data Processing Environments, that have become the defacto global standard for reliability and energy efficiency in the data centre industry.

Part of ASHRAE’s success comes from the collaboration that occurs with the industry technical thought leaders it brings together. I have enjoyed being an ASHRAE member since 2003 and a TC9.9 member since 2010. At the conference I was privileged to be named a TC9.9 Voting Committee member for the second time.

During my previous stint from 2014-2018, I had the privilege of representing ASHRAE in reviewing and providing input on a European Union (EU) Regulation for servers and data storage products for the Eco-design Consultation Forum on DG GROW Lot 9. This was significant for the data centre industry as TC9.9 Environmental Classes for IT equipment were defined in a binding EU Regulation. It ensured consistency in guidelines between North America and the EU, eliminating ambiguity across the information technology and data centre communities. My efforts were recognised by iMasons with their 2020 Sustainability Award, a tremendous honour given the prestigious recipients who have previously won the award for their work on digital infrastructure sustainability.

Kao Data is committed to good stewardship and collaboration with the data centre industry. My work with ASHRAE TC9.9 and my colleague, Gerard’s work with the Open Compute Project, are just two of the many examples of our involvement in industry projects and initiatives that are intended to better shape the future of the industry. We are fortunate enough to embrace the work of TC9.9 in ways some of our colleagues are not always able to do so. Through the innovative application of sound engineering principles, we have put sustainability and its desired outcomes - higher energy efficiency, lower carbon footprint, lower cost of operations for both us and our customers - front and centre of our Kao Data strategy.

To round this blog off I’ll head back from Toronto to Harlow, where it all began for Kao Data. I’m delighted to announce that at the end of July we completed the fourth and final Technology Suite within KLON-01 and our rigorous Integrated System Test (IST) commenced as scheduled. This is a milestone achievement for the company, especially because this has all been delivered on budget and on programme (some achievement considering the current volatility and unpredictability within the construction market and supply chains) while at the same time providing an unblemished, 100% uptime record for our customers. I’m exceptionally proud of our whole team in achieving this.

August tends (hopefully) to be a quieter month for the industry and I’m looking forward to taking some time off with my family and friends to refresh and get ready for Q3. If you’re on your vacations, enjoy your time off and I’ll no doubt catch-up with many of you in the Autumn.

Paul Finch

Paul Finch is COO at Kao Data and has had a 30-year career designing, building and operating some of the world’s finest data centres.


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