Friday 28 December 2018

Carbon3IT Ltd 2018 Update

I'll start by stating that this has been a very diverse year in terms of sales, we appear to have broken new ground in various ways and our income streams have essentially quadrupled and financially this year has been marginally better than last year, and we have a number of projects already booked for 2019 but these are essentially restricted to Q1 and we (and it seems the Government and 100% of UK inhabitants) have no real clue as to what will happen after the 29th March 2019 (Brexit Day).

At the time of writing this article, Parliament is in recess for Christmas, and no real progress has been made at all, the EU Withdrawal Agreement that T May has come back with, has no prospect of making it through the house, so all the talk is "my deal, no deal or no brexit" we'd prefer "no brexit" but there are some who wish to jump out of the UK aeroplane without a parachute, thank you but we'd rather not.
I'm not going to gaze into my crystal ball at this time, except to say that 2019 is going to be a VERY interesting year.

So, January 2018 saw us preparing for our final EURECA project sessions, attending and presenting at the BroadGroup DataCloud event on the topic of energy aand energy efficiency, as you'd expect the EUCOC featured heavily as did some of the UK energy legislation, standards and thoughts for the future. We were quite busy at this time preparing some BRIGHTTALK seminars to support our final EURECA sessions. We also had a conversation with some chaps at Building Research Establishment (BRE) but more on that later.

February saw the final EURECA session and it was a bumper event, we had a day at the UEL for around 75 delegates, and then attended the Data Centre Summit where we had a number of presentations scheduled, finally rounded off with a series of webinars and an event at the Houses of Parliament. We also manged to fit in a number of client meetings, the first to discuss the use of our services for a large global data centre supply chain supplier, the second to discuss a project in North Africa, the third to review some EUCOC updates for a large global telco/colo provider. We also found the time to visit the HoP for a policy connect launch meeting for sustainable ICT inlcuding data centres for which we and EURECA had provided some content.

March was an intersting month, we met up with our good friends at Ekkosense to discuss items of  mutual interest (air flow in data centres mainly), we attended the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell show at the NEC, mainly to ascertain whether the technology could be used for data centre (yes, they can but it requires a major rethink and redesign of the data centre!) The month was rounded off by our annual visit to Data Centre World, my thoughts on this are that I remember it being very very cold! We also went to Amsterdam for an ICTFootprint event were we spoke on the topic of Green IT and also Sustainable Data Centres, we also undertook a datacentre audit for a midlands university

April was a fairly quiet month due to Easter but we did have some EUCOC work and some work via our Dutch partners Green IT Amsterdam.

Early May, was the Data Centres North event, and we managed to fit 2 trips into the Netherlands (the 3rd and 4th this year"), the first, to provide some basic data centre foundation training to another Dutch partner Asperitas, and the second to meet up with a Green IT Amsterdam client to develop their Green Data Centre Campus Sustainability Framework, we also attended the Data Centre Solutions Awards and a couple of webinars on the emerging Data Centre EMAS criteria where we provided some content and discussion.

We love June, it might be because we get to go to Monaco for the DataCloud Europe event, as usual we were invited as the guest of the EU-JRC and partly funded by our friends at the DCA. We love it because the weather improves and it tends to get hot, this year was no exception it got really hot and for a long time. We also presented to a selected audience for ABB on the topic of "The EUCOC and other animals (I may have been watching too much "The Durells" in the previous couple of weeks whilst building the presentation), we also attended the BICSI and MIXingIT event as well as England first WC game (thank you Keysource!)

In July, we made our way to Manchester for the Data Centre Transformation conference (and another England WC game), attended the networking event and the launch of Interxion's London 3 facility at the London Assembly/Mayors Office, that was a very good night, the view is magnificent,  the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and all the city laid out in front of you, the weather was so good that you could see for miles!. The next week saw me in Brussels to visit a new client to prepare 3 EUCOC applications,  Later that week it was also a family event, a christening that co-incided with the school holidays so we went up to Manchester, stayed the night, and met up with 2 clients the following  day. We also managed a trip to Cambridge to visit another potential partner/client and the girls enjoyed the city (again it was very hot!)

August is always very quiet, but not this year! We had a meeting with a Landlord for a very interesting data centre site very close to us, in fact it is the closest and I've been dying to get in there and mooch around, it appeared that my wish was about to come true! We also visited a client in London at their Class 2 facility (sadly no business from them!) We rounded the month off by providing some training to BRE personnel (the result of that phone call in January and a meeting with them at DCW in March (thats how long our sales cycle can be!)) that itself was topped off by a visit to a Data Centre (We went to Interxion's London site). I've always felt that data centre training is too one sided but thats not a topic for discussion now, but rest assured that plans are afoot!

In September I was back in Amsterdam for a brief visit to attend the launch of the Catalyst project with our partner Green IT Amsterdam, this project is seeking to promote the reuse of data centre waste heat for other purposes, such as district heat systems and the like, its going to be a very interesting project and we are assisting them. We then flew to Helsinki for a CEEDA assessment, this assessment was a "Design Operate CEEDA" and we were reviewing the operational elements, I can state that this was an exceptional facility and well worth its Gold accreditation.
We also found the time to attend the DCA golf day where once again we managed to just miss the "worst golfer" prize.
Later, in the month we visited Leeds with a client and their client and then attended the DCA Annual Members meeting coupled with a couple of steering group meetings namely the "energy efficiency" and new "liquid alliance"

We always tend to schedule the EUCOC Annual Best Practices meeting around this time of year, and this year it was scheduled for early October, this was follwed by a visit to London for IP expo and then a trip to Bristol to meet up with the Council to discuss their "Energy Leap" project. We also visited the data centre closest to me to conduct the audit on behalf of the landlord, my dream had come true! Its always good to visit data centres and check out the technology and management systems in use, but this was a joy to behold, the site was built when I was 11 years old, (I'm 54 now, but feel 24!) and I have to say that for its age, it was in exceptional condition, true it did look a bit tired but hey, this girl had been working her socks off 24/7/365 for over 40 years, hopefully she'll get a make over soon (watch this space!)

November is conference season, but we managed to fit in a CEEDA assessment and an EUCOC preparation meeting with a new client as well as attend a few non standard (i.e. non data centre events) as well, the month started with the DCD Converged event at London's Old Billingsgate, and then I attended the Low Carbon Britain event. We then met up with a client with regard to assisting them with their proposed ISO50001 certification (we got the job, and are currently preparing draft documents for them to review and amend to suit their needs, later we'll check the policies, processes and procedures and review the evidence prior to the certification process, which we'll attend.
Later that week I travelled to Lincoln to visit an old client who has finally managed to get a site and is starting to build a very interesting data centre, more on that project next year!
The week after I made my way over to Dublin for Data Centres Ireland and then London for a CBRE briefing on Standards (a subject I know a little about!). We spent the rest of the month preparing and writing our report on the data centre audit we'd completed for our client in Warwick. We also managed to get tickets for the Networking Event of the Year, which is the DataCentre.ME Christmas Party, held on the Tattershall Castle, a boat moored between the House of Parliament and Hungerford Bridge, with excellent views of the London Eye and of course the River.

December is nearly always quite quiet, but not this year, we were invited to the Man Utd v Arsenal match at Old Trafford at the Captains Table, this is corporate hospitality at its finest, 3 course meal, drinks, programme, gift and a very good evenings entertainment (not on the football side of things unfortunately, although it was a 2-2 draw, the game wasn't that great!) followed by a quick trip to London to attend the DCD Awards. I love going to the DCD Awards, and this year was excellent, the EURECA project WON! the Initative of the Year award, so many thanks to the entire EURECA team for winning this very prestigious award, which has made and will continue to make data centres in the EU energy efficient and sustainable.
The next week I met with a potential new partner who is interested in heat recovery and reuse in the DC sector, this was followed by a small networking event run by the excellent Caroline Hitchens and her DataCentre.Me team. The day after I attended the BSI TCT7/3 standards committee meeting which of course develops the EN50600 series of data centre design, build and operate standards.
We had an update meeting with our ISO50001 client and then a couple of meetings in London to sort out some new work (potentially) for next year.

As I stated earlier, next year is going to be very interesting indeed and as we have no idea as how its all going to pan out, we're going to keep our powder dry for the time being.

But, that said, we will continue to offer the following services:

EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres Review and Preparation
CEEDA assessements (with our DCD partners)
ISO Management Systems for ISO9001/14001/22301/27001 and 50001
Data Centre Audits (with our M&E partners)
Data Centre Training (on site, and tailored to your requirements)
Data Centre Support Services - Compliance

Special Services, if you have a problem that needs solving, let us know, through our wide network of consultants, supply chains and operators we've probably come across the problem before and therefore may be able to help

Finally, we'd like to wish all our customers, suppliers and industry collegues the very best wishes for 2019

The next blog post will be the 4th in our series "Air v Liquid" and this article will be on the cost side of things scheduled to be published early in the new year.

As always, until next time.

If you need to get in touch with us, please use the following:
@carbon3it (Twitter/Skype)

Sunday 2 September 2018

Air v Liquid - Part 3 - Cooling v Heat rejection

Following on from the previous 2 articles, I'm now going to look at cooling v heat rejection in the data centre environment.

I stated with some authority that cooling per se is a misnomer, to date I've not had any comments refuting my assertion so I'll continue.

Cooling (by the strict technical term is "is the transfer of thermal energy via thermal radiation, heat conduction or convection.
Heat rejection is a component part of these processes.
So, when we cool something we effectively remove heat and thats precisely what we do in a data centre.

The question, and the topic of these articles is....

Air v Liquid

If we were to look at the data centre ecosystems in almost every continent on this planet we will find that in 99.99% of cases, the medium for heat transfer is air, good old air.

And the principle reason for this is that most computer equipment, servers, storage and networking equipment is designed around the use of air as a cooling medium.

Lets look at air.

So, the main concept here is the "air cycle", for the purposes of this article we're going to start the cycle at the exit of the CRAC/H unit, but we could easily start anywhere in the cycle.

Air is pushed via a fan into a floor void at positive pressure, the air escapes into the room by the prudent placement of floor tiles (in front of the rack, please refer to the EUCOC for futher guidance!) but could easily escape from a whole host of gaps, holes and other routes (hence why the best practice recommend the stopping of all potential sources of leaks), from the tile, air is forced upwards and hopefully into the main inlet of the server, air then passes over the "heat" producing components and is exhausted through the rear of the server and moves upwards (hot air tends to rise, recall your physics lesssons from school) the air then rises to the ceiling level and may, if coerced, find its way back to the top of the CRAC/H unit. What happens inside the CRAC/H unit is a mystery to me!
Nah, its not, just jesting, the air is passed over a cooling coil and heat is transferred to the coil, inside the coil is a liquid, this is pumped to the outside unit, and disappears into the ether by a host of different methods dry coolers, evaporative, cooling towers or through a chiller, what is key is that the liquid transfers its heat to the outside source and thus becomes cooler, this liquid is then returned back to the internal unit and at the bottom of the coil is considerably cooler than the air at the top. Thus the heat generated by the IT equipment is removed and cooler air is supplied.

[NOTE: Some systems will differ in the approach and method of heat rejection but the principle is the same]

The temperatures of the air will differ depending on the desired temperature, but if you recall, average room temperatures from my students are between 18-21℃.

Lets introduce the concept of supply and return temperatures, and the control of them, so supply is the temperature of the air from the bottom of the CRAC/Hs being pushed into the room, the return is the temperature as it enters the top of the CRAC/Hs, so when my students speak of a range of 18-21℃ this may be controlled either by a supply temperature of 18-21℃ or a return temperature of between 30-35℃ which equates to a supply temperature of 18-21℃, the key being somthing called the delta t, or the difference between the cold air and the hot air.

The optimum delta is 15℃ so 33℃ return will provide 19℃ supply.

Understanding this key concept is an important point, many facilities unfortunately have AC systems that have no user controls, and the control points are set by factory to be a standard range. Some facilities operate on return temperatures and sometimes these are set quite low, which in turn means that the delta t forces the supply temperature lower, in some cases (anecdotally from colleagues, temperatures where meat could be stored, so around 5-8℃ causing a considerable amount of energy to be consumed and potentially causing problems for IT kit at the lower end of the operational range (5℃)

Got it ? Good, now to liquid..

There are 4 main liquid cooled solutions in use today, listed as follows:

1. Rear door cooling, this is where the cooling loop for CRAC/H's is extended to the rack where it meets with heat exchangers in the door frames, thus the hot air from the servers is cooled immediately before it leaves the rack footprint, normally the room itself is not cooled.

2. Cold plate, this is where the heat producing components have copper piping to remove the heat at source, this is them treated similarily to rear door cooling and the heat taken away using conventional methods, again the room is not cooled

3. Immersion (1), - this is where server motherboards are actually immersed in baths filled with a non conductive fluid and there is a heat exchanger situated near the bath to remove the heat, natural convection methods move the heated liquid to the heat exchanger. Power and connectivity are provided by a common bar. In this and the following senarios, the rooms are not cooled.

4. Immersion (2) - this is where individual motherboards are encased in a cartridge which contained the non conductive fluid and they slot into a rack with a cooling loop integrated within, valves and other connections provide power and connectivity to the board.

The key thing here is that the liquid in 2, 3, and 4 above is hotter than the air that leaves the rear of the server, around 50℃ and is potentialy more useful and can be used for other processes, such as heat for office areas, or transferred to adjacent buildings for heating swimming pools or greenhouses.

There is a current EU funded project that is looking into heat re-use from data centres (both air and liquid) called Catalyst, more information on this link

In the next article, I'm going to look at the relative costs of both ecosystems, the air cooled ecosystem, the non immersed systems and the immersed ecosystems.

Friday 1 June 2018

Air v Liquid - Part 2 Data Centre Basics

So, continuing on from the previous post, we're going to look at the basics of a data centre, and for this I'm going to cover all types for all sorts of organisations.

As a user of digital services (as covered in the previous post) I don't really care about how my digital services get to me, as long as they do. But, just because I don't care doesn't mean that someone else doesn't.

Lets go back to basics. In order for me to access a digital service someone needs to provide 3 things, the first a network, a physical or wireless network that transmits my outbound and any inbound signals to a server somewhere, the second, that destination server or servers to process and deal with my request, be it, a financial transaction, a look at my bank balance or to view the latest news updates, and thirdly some power so both the server and the network can run.

At a most basic level, I could use domestic power points in my gargage to power my server and connect it to the internet via my wireless connection or broadband. Is that a data centre? Well, actually technically it isn't, although some organisations back in the early days did precisely that!

The official defination of a data centre (for me) is that contained within the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres (Energy Efficiency) aka EUCOC guidance document, that can be downloaded from this link

It states "For the purposes of the Code of Conduct, the term “data centres” includes all buildings, facilities and rooms which contain enterprise servers, server communication equipment, cooling equipment and power equipment, and provide some form of data service (e.g. large scale mission critical facilities all the way down to small server rooms located in office buildings)

Very clear, insofar, that the building, facility or room must contain, servers, server communication equipment (network), power equipment and lastly cooling equipment and provide some sort of data service and that those buildings, facilities or rooms can range from large scale mission critical facilities all the way down to small server rooms located in office buildings.

Thus the EUCOC covers all types of communication cupboards, server rooms, machine rooms, mini data centres, medium data centres, telco switch locations, hyperscale data centres etc and those belonging to all types of organisations, in fact any organisation that operates in this increasingly digital world. The only thing I didn't discuss was the cooling element.

Cooling is actually a bit of a misnomer, what we're actually doing when we "cool" is to reject heat, that is to carry away the heat away from the servers and then cool it (the air) down and reinject that cooled air back into the loop. There is plenty of stuff available online if you really want to know about the airflow cycle BUT...

And, it is a BIG BUT...

What are we actually rejecting the heat from?

In essence, servers generate a lot of waste heat, and if we dont manage the air flow we can get thermal problems, but where is this heat coming from? 

In a server, there are 2 heat sources, the first is the processor itself (more on that later) and the power supply unit, this device converts the 220-240AC power into the micro DC voltages found on the motherboard and other components.

Server chipsets (the processors) undergo Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modelling to channel the heat away from the core to the heatsinks, the surface of a chip can reach temperatures in excess of 140°C, by the time the heat gets to the end of the fins it can be around 50-60°C.

Most servers themselves undergo CFD modelling to determine the air flow across the heat producing components, listed above within the chassis of the server, so the air flow is optimised as it enters through the front of the device, passes over the processor/power supply and then is exhausted through the rear of the unit. The fans in the device actually pulls the air through the unit, assisted by any positive pressure provided by the AC units.

Most servers are actually designed to operate quite happily in ambient air, and as such can operate between 5° - 40°C,  Thermal monitoring controls the fan speed. It is only when we cluster a great many servers togther for instance in a rack that heat problems can appear.

When I teach the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres (Energy Efficiency) I ask the students 3 questions, as follows:

1. What is the target temperature in your facility (server room etc) ?
2. What is the target humidity range in your facility?
3. Why these numbers specifically?  

The answers (with some exceptions) are:

1. 18-21℃
2. 50%RH +/-5%
3. Er, we dont know!

Well, those specific numbers relate to the use of paper tapes and cards back in the 50's and 60's and then when some old magnetic tapes needed cool and dry environments back in the 80's and 90's. (I could do a whole blog post on this!)

The thing is that these temperature and humidity ranges belong in the 20th Century, IT equipment can run at higher temperatures today so the question is, do we need cooling or just simply heat rejection?

Well, we'll cover that in the next blog post. 

Before we do though, we'll just go through the absolute basics for a server room and by definition the rest of the data centre ecosystem types as the only real difference is scale and risk profile/appetite.

Scale is clearly, the amount of IT equipment you are using, for smaller organisations, it may not be too big an IT estate, whilst for the hyperscale search engines or social media platforms it may number tens of thousands, if not millions of servers, storage units and network switches. This amount will create a great deal of heat which needs to be managed.

The risk profile is essentially, your own appetite to the risk of the IT going down, if it is absolutely mission critical that your IT systems stays up all the time, or as we say in the sector 24hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year or 24/7/365 then you will require some duplicate systems to deal with any failure, and not just in the IT but your power, network and cooling solutions as well, this will add cost, complexity and an increased maintainance regime to your calculations. There are certain classifications that can be applied, such as the EN50600 (ISO22237) Classes, the Uptime Institute Tiers as well as others, I dont want to go into much detail on these at the present time, but will cover them later in this series.

Lets take a quick look at the minimums:

Power, we'll need electricity to power the servers, networking equipment and storage solutions.
The power train is, at its most basic a standard 13Amp socket on the wall, but if we have more than one server and you're using a rack it may be prudent to consider other options.

Space, computer racks come in a number of different sizes and configurations, most prevalent today are 800mm x 800mm and approximately 1.8 high for a 42U rack and you'll need to access the front and rear of the rack with the doors open so allow at least 1m around the rack for access. You could just use a table, and I've seen that in a number of locations!

Technically, thats it, but it may be prudent to allow the hot air to escape the room and a standard extract ventilator fan can do the job (bear in mind thought that outside air can also come in through this fan unit so some filtration equipment may be useful.)

If you want cooling, then you may want a false floor to allow the cool air to surround your rack and some tiles to direct it to where it needs to be (please refer to the EUCOC section 5 cooling for the myriad of best practices about air flow direction and the containment of that air to the right place). You can get away with not having any air flow management (indeed up until very recently (circa 2008) and in some places even today, but this will come at the risk of hotspots, thermal overload failures and increased energy bills.

You'll also need some sort of cooling unit (if so you dont really need the extract fan), the most basic of this is a standard domestic DX cooler, this unit provides cold air (it should have control to specify the exact temperature) and rejects the air via pipework and an external unit to the outside, again there are a multitude of cooling options available on the market today and some even optimised for data centres!

In the next post, I'll be looking at the cooling v heat rejection.

Thursday 31 May 2018

Air v Liquid - Part 1 The direction of travel!

This is going to be the first in a series of articles on liquid cooling in the data centre environment, with a view to sparking some debate.
The use of liquid cooled technologies in the data centre has been akin to debates about nuclear fusion, insofar that its always 5-10 years from adoption.
We've been tracking the use of liquid cooled technologies for some time now and we are party to some developments that have been taking place recently, and it is my belief that we are going to see some serious disruption taking place in the sector sooner rather than later.

We'll be looking at a unique way of looking at how to implement liquid cooled solutions in the next few posts, but before that we need to understand the direction of travel outside of the DC Space.

Customers are increasingly using cloud services and it appears that organisations that are buying physical equipment are only doing so because of either "thats the way we've always done IT" or that they are using specialist applications that cannot be provide via cloud services or they are wedded to some out of date procurement process. This is supported by the fact that conventional off the shelf server sales are in decline, whilst specialist cloud enabled servers on on the up but being purchased by Cloud Vendors and the Hyperscalers (albeit that they are designing and building their own servers which by and large are not suitable for conventional on premise deployements) There is also the Open Compute Project that is mostly being used for pilots via development teams.
So, with cloud servers, the customer, in fact any customer has no say in the type of physical hardware deployed to provide that SaaS, PaaS or IaaS solution and that is the right approach. IT is increasingly becoming a Utility, just like Electricity, Water and Gas. As a customer of these utilities I have no desire to know how my electricity reaches my house, all I want is that when I flick the light switch or turn on the TV, that the light comes on and that I can watch the "Game of Thrones" I certainly do not care which power station generated the electricity, how many pylons, how many transformers, how many different cables etc that the "juice" passed through to get to my plug/switch.

For digital services, I access a "service" on my smartphone, tablet, desktop etc and via a broadband or wifi connection, access the "internet" and then route through various buildings containing network transmission equipment to the server (which can be located anywhere on the planet), the physical server(s) that the "service" resides upon. Everything, apart from my own access device is not my asset, I merely "pay" for the use of it. And I dont pay directly, I pay my ISP or Internet Service Provider a monthly fee for access and the supplier directly for the service that I am accessing and somehow they pay everybody else.

So, in essence, digital services are (to me) an app I select on my digital device, information is then sent and received over digital infrastructure, either fixed such as a broadband connection or via a wifi network. I have no knowledge or, nor do I care how the information is sent or received, merely that it is. 

What does this have to do with the use of air or liquid in a data centre?

Well, its actually quite important, but before we cover that, we'll be covering the basics of data centres and we'll be doing that in the next post.