Data Centers Are Facing a Climate Crisis

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Companies are racing to cool down their servers as energy prices and temperatures soar. And the worst is yet to come.

When record temperatures wracked the UK in late July 2022, Google Cloud’s data centers in London went offline for a day, due to cooling failures. The UK Metereological Office, which monitors the weather in the UK, suggests that the record heat was an augur of things to come, which means data centers need to prepare for a new normal. That weather shift (higher temperatures) will have an impact on all human-made infrastructure—including the data centers that keep our planet’s collective knowledge online.

“It wasn’t that long ago that we were designing cooling systems for a peak outdoor temperature of 32 degrees,” says Jon Healy, of the UK data center consultancy Keysource. “They’re over 8 degrees higher than they were ever designed for.” Data center design companies are starting to consider the historical weather information as outdated and beginning to use projected future temperatures. Rather than thinking my extreme is 35 degrees, they’re doing projections on 37 or 38 degrees.

Currently companies are rethinking how data centers will be cooled. However, there might be a risk. Outside of the IT equipment itself, the next-biggest consumer of energy in data centers is the equipment used to keep it cool.