data center

NSA data center to be cooled by wastewater

In a move anticipated to save money and mitigate the environmental impact of its new Maryland-based data center, the National Security Agency will be using wastewater to cool its servers at the facility in Fort Meade. 

Up to five million gallons a day of treated wastewater, also known as graywater, will be used for cooling systems at the data center, due to open in 2016, reported Matthew Hay Brown of The Baltimore Sun.

Normally the wastewater would be dumped into the Little Patuxent River. 

Harvey Davis, director of installation and logistics at the NSA, said the arrangement is "dramatically beneficial for the taxpayers and also really good for the ecosystem," reported Brown. 

The alternative would be using tap water or well water to cool the computers, a far more expensive option that would have added stress to a local aquifer, said Davis. Using wastewater reduces the amount of treated water sent into the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. 

NSA will spend $40 million to build a pumping station at the data center, which will include 70,000 square feet of computer space. 

Utility and energy provider ComEd reports that cooling equipment used to remove heat in data centers accounts for nearly 45 percent of a data center’s energy costs.

Reducing those costs benefits not only the data center operator but also the local communities. According to an article in WaterWorld, recycled water costs are usually 35 to 55 percent of a municipality's fresh water costs, which increase every year. With proper planning, industrial facilities can save from 10 to 30 percent on water costs by using wastewater in cooling towers. 

Meanwhile, other agencies are using alternative methods to reduce water consumption in data centers. The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Department of Defense are using “hot water” to cool servers. At NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility in Golden, Colo., 75-degree water will be used to cool servers and heat building office space and laboratories. The higher temperature water improves waste-heat recovery and reduces water consumption in the data center, reported John Rath in Data Center Knowledge.  

This year will herald changes in data centers that will also lower cooling costs. Newly built data centers will be smaller in size and in some cases may appear to shrink to almost nothing. 

These new data centers will have less metal on all system housings, use curtains instead of walls and seal off unused sections of the data center so energy isn't wasted trying to cool empty space. In some cases, the walls will disappear altogether, even the exterior ones. 

There will also be a move toward smaller, modular data centers that can be deployed quickly almost anywhere. The military has been using, and refining, this concept for some time because it needs to rapidly deploy mobile data centers. But it’s still a new concept for most civilian agencies. 

In an old school approach, the Energy Department’s Berkeley Computing Lab is planning to use outside air (the lab is near San Francisco) to cool down servers. Scientists estimate the outside air can be used to cool computers 90 percent of the time.

In the private sector, both Facebook and Google have built data centers in cold climates (Sweden, near the Arctic Circle and Finland, respectively) to mitigate energy cooling costs. Outdoor retailer REI is using a rooftop evaporative cooling tower to keep servers cool, reported Energy Manager Today

Agencies can also use virtualized servers, state-of-the-art storage systems and environmental monitoring software to further lower costs and go green.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


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