The evolution of cooling in Data Centers: efficiency and density at stake

In the world of data centers, one of the oldest and ever-evolving discussions is about the optimal design of cooling systems. Today, the convergence of digital transformation and hybrid work has made identity and access management more complex. As businesses seek to keep their data centers in line with the growing workload density and improve efficiency, this question seems more timely than ever. There is no one right way to design a data center, and new technologies only reinforce this point. Over the years, data center cooling technologies and designs have evolved to meet our changing needs.

Past: Raised Floors vs. Slab Floors

In 2011, Equinix covered the early debates between proponents of raised floor designs and those of slab floors in data centers. At that time, underfloor cooling had been the established standard for years, while ceiling cooling on slab floors was still relatively new. Even then, it was recognized that there were factors at play beyond efficiency. There were trade-offs in terms of flexibility, cost, and durability, leading to the conclusion that there was no one right answer for cabinet density at that time.

Yesterday: Fan Walls

In 2016, Equinix revisited the raised floor vs. slab floor topic, but added a third option: fan walls. Instead of using underfloor or ceiling cooling, a fan wall integrates the cooling system into the walls of the data aisle or the perimeter of the data center. Fan wall systems saw a new wave of interest for their potential to increase efficiency.

Today: Air Cooling Efficiency Continues to Grow

In the years since the last exploration of this topic, we have seen both raised floor and slab floor designs continue to successfully cool data centers. We have also seen new developments that have helped air cooling become more efficient overall.

Tomorrow: Continued Implementation of Liquid Cooling

In the past, choosing the right design for a data center only required comparing different varieties of air cooling. All of these varieties still have a role to play in current data centers, and all have experienced efficiency improvements that have helped them keep up with the latest challenges facing the industry. The next evolution in cooling efficiency, liquid cooling, represents something completely new and different. It is revolutionary, not evolutionary. Liquid cooling could completely redefine data center density capabilities simply because liquid is significantly better at transferring heat than air.

What’s Next for Liquid Cooling?

The arrival of liquid cooling is already upon us, but deployment will not happen overnight. It is important for data center operators to maintain flexibility by making their facilities interchangeable between air-cooled and liquid-cooled cabinets. This ensures that when they need to implement liquid cooling, they are ready to do so quickly, without significant modifications to existing facilities.

Equinix is helping to define the future of liquid cooling by supporting various industry initiatives. For example, working to establish a standard coolant temperature for durable data center designs as part of an Open Compute Project (OCP) working group.

In summary

As we look forward to increased use of liquid cooling, we will continue to deploy a variety of air and liquid cooling methods to meet the needs of different workloads in various locations. The arrival of liquid cooling has not only complicated the debate about the optimal design of data centers, but has also opened a new chapter in the constant evolution of cooling efficiency.

Photo: Equinix

Scroll to Top