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Data center thematic file

EQUANS adresses the challenges of data centers

Medium shot of female technician working on a tablet in a data center full of rack servers running diagnostics and maintenance on the system

Data centers are a major development issue worldwide. Digital data, or datas, is at the heart of the activities of companies, which are increasingly defining themselves as data centric, i.e. entirely reorganised around the data from their customers and their markets.

 

The general public is also affected by this change, having become a massive consumer and producer of digital data on the Internet, social networks and telecom networks (messages, texts, photos, videos, music, etc.). In the end, these data exchanges are both gigantic and growing rapidly, which means that key infrastructures need to be built at a sustained pace: data centers, the obligatory points of passage for these digital flows.

However, data centers are subject to increasing regulations and requirements in terms of energy efficiency, in a context of global warming. These infrastructures have become vital to our economies and must meet the highest security standards.

EQUANS has developed strong expertise in the field of data centers, based on over 20 years of experience in Europe and worldwide. Our teams are capable of managing infrastructure projects of any size, within short deadlines, and integrating the most demanding technical and environmental standards.

Data centers: a key role in the digital transformation of our societies

Data centers are buildings in which IT equipment for the storage, processing and distribution of digital data is located. Because of their strategic role in the digital transformation of our societies, these infrastructures are highly secure (secure access, protection against fire and natural risks, etc.).

However, data centers consume large amounts of electricity and their IT equipment generates large amounts of heat: their permanent cooling is therefore of critical importance.

 

Data centers: a need for sustained growth

Globally, in 2021, investment in data center infrastructures was close to $200 billion, representing 6% growth over 2020. For example, if we consider only the volumes of data linked to IoT equipment, predictions exceed 73 zettabytes in 2025 (1 zettabyte = 10 21 bytes).

However, with current technologies, it would take about 1,000 data centers to store 1 zettabyte. To cope with the explosion in the volume and exchange of digital data, it is therefore imperative to rapidly increase the number and capacity of data centers. However, increasing the capacity of data centers - without increasing their floor space, while controlling their heat production and their continuity of activity - is a real technical challenge.

Key figures

4 %
of global GHG emissions are due to digital accounts
x 2
estimated carbon footprint by 2025
25 %
of the digital sector's GHG emissions due to data centers

Key figures

4 %
of global GHG emissions are due to digital accounts
x 2
estimated carbon footprint by 2025
25 %
of the digital sector's GHG emissions due to data centers

EQUANS is able to support data center projects of all sizes

Data centers can be classified according to the electrical poweder consum and their professional use:

  • Hyperscale: from 30 to 150 MW, designed for big techs and major cloud players (Google, Microsoft, Meta, AWS, Apple ...), these sites are growing rapidly worldwide.
  • Co-location: from 2 to 25 MW, shared by key players in the digital economy or co-location players (Interxion DRT, Equinix, Global Switch, Data4, etc.), these sites are tending to gradually increase in capacity with the arrival of new customers.
  • Edge: from 500 kW to 5 MW, these infrastructures are designed for companies with a medium volume of activity (EdgeConnect).
  • Telco: from 500 kW to 2 MW, these sites are designed for telecommunications companies (Orange, Vodafone, etc.).
  • Enterprise: from 50 kW to 2MW, these infrastructures meet the specific digital needs of large companies, particularly banks and insurance companies (ABN AMRO, BNP, Dexia, Société Générale, etc.).

EQUANS can design and supervise, with its partners, the building of each of these families of data centers in less than a year to meet the high time-to-market requirements of its clients. Our teams can also ensure the daily management and maintenance of these infrastructures, including 24/7 shift operation.

Increasingly demanding public policies towards data centres

For reasons of efficiency, data centers are often built in urban areas, close to the places where massive amounts of digital data are produced and consumed, and where the internet exchange latency is low. But this leads to public debates, especially for Hyperscale or Co-Location sites, because of their huge floor areas.

Bram Fransen, Managing Director EQUANS, West NL and responsable of EQUANS‘ Data centers Business club points out:

The public debates around data centers are leading to a probable trend: the establishment of Hyperscale or Co-Location sites outside the metropolis, sometimes at great distances, preferably in areas with cool air or near large bodies of cold water.

Some public debates also arise around the fact that data centers, because of their enormous energy consumption, place too great a burden on local public electricity infrastructures. They are also criticized for their massive aesthetics. And in some cases, the debates are focused on the issue of sovereignty, since a country's data are managed abroad.

Moreover, for many local authorities, the disadvantages of setting up a data center are only slightly offset by the long-term jobs since data centers are highly automated.

Technologies

New technologies to support the development of data centres

Experts consider that the utilities within data centers over 15 years old are already obsolete, particularly because of their low energy efficiency (Power Usage Effectiveness or PUE). As a reminder, PUE measures the energy efficiency of a data center by calculating the ratio between the total energy consumed by the center and that consumed by the IT equipment. Older data centers tend to have a PUE of around 2.5, but the average is now close to 1.2- -1.5: EQUANS has achieved ratios close to 1.25, as at the Agility Center in Belgium.

To improve this efficiency, many technologies are being developed, including:

    • Direct-to-chip liquid cooling, which uses a liquid refrigerant such as liquid nitrogen
    • H2 fuel cells, where electricity generation is based on the controlled reaction of hydrogen with oxygen
    • Direct air cooling, which uses the surrounding fresh air to lower the temperature inside the building.

In this context, EQUANS has developed and patented the FRAU (FRee cooling Autonomous Unit) technology, which is used at the Parc Crealys data center in Gembloux, Belgium, where the PUE is 1.25.

EQUANS has also designed and delivered to clients in the Netherlands (Interxion, ABN AMRO) solutions which , among others, include an ATES system (ATES: Aquifer Thermal Energy Storage). This lowers the PUE significantly. As EQUANS is a specialist in ATES systems we also maintain them and frequently advice the client how to operate those systems.

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