All Systems Operational 

Becoming Greener Guest Series: Iceotope

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Currently, the vast majority of data centres blow air across their electronics to cool them. In doing so, very significant amounts of electricity, water, and space are consumed. Despite the industry’s efforts to optimise efficiency, data centres contribute around 1% of total global energy consumption – and growing – coupled with very significant water consumption.
iceotope cooling data

As the consumption of data grows, as does the number of data centres; it’ll come as no surprise that operators will come under increased pressure to reduce energy and water usage, pronto – especially once the outcomes of COP26 are rolled out.

David Craig leads Iceotope whose technologies permit device manufacturers and data centre operators to deploy equipment fit for the future that is only going to get hotter. Iceotope’s technologies provide class-leading efficiencies in power, space, and water consumption, all of which, due to net-zero targets, will ultimately be required to remove hundreds of megatonnes of carbon from the air.

Chilling data centre racks right down to chassis level, Iceotope’s technologies have been found independently to decrease water use by a whopping 96%, with 40% reductions in both power and carbon emissions. And not to mention the bi-product of lessening cooling costs by 84%!

Impressive figures, and an even more impressive conversation to follow…

What does Iceotope aim to achieve?

In a sentence, we’re trying to allow planet earth to have its cake and eat it. Data is everywhere, and it’s growing fast. Generating data also generates heat; thanks to the huge data explosion, we could have an environmental disaster waiting to happen. At Iceotope, we’re working to reverse the adverse impact of existing technologies whilst facilitating the growth of the amazing AI technologies which are driving our future.

To put things into perspective, the amount of water consumed by data centres is enough to hydrate 10% of the world’s population. 10%!

By seeking advancements in technology to promote a more closed-loop economy, we’re looking to recycle energy and redirect it elsewhere, to heat a building or a home, for example.

At the same time, we’re aware that many areas of the world still haven’t enjoyed the mass benefits of the advances in technology. So, we’re trying to implement fair practices that enable global experience with minimal environmental impacts. Ultimately, when it comes to data, we want to enable its presence everywhere.

How does liquid cooling contribute to sustainable energy practice?

Chips are getting faster, and they’re getting hotter. There are limits to temperatures that traditional air-cooling can manage, which is where liquid cooling comes in. It’s not new, it’s been around for years; the trouble is it’s constantly battling an association with ‘mad scientists’. But as we refine this technology, we’re able to pinpoint specific areas where we can save energy. For instance, we can isolate a single chassis and create a micro-environment that is completely sealed, protecting the critical IT from things like humidity and particulate contaminants.

Using liquid cooling, we’re bringing data closer to the consumer. If you think about how Covid has changed the working landscape, i.e. more employees are working from home and/or more employers are operating hybrid models, there’s a fair amount of redundant workspace. So, a fifteenth-floor office in Canary Wharf that was once home to a call centre could transform into a data centre. Then we can capture the heat produced to cool the electronics and use it to heat the surrounding offices, the building, the local community… Two birds, one stone!

It’s not such a far-fetched idea that soon the basements of houses, for example, could be turned into data centres. Electricity is used to generate the data, but then that data is also able to provide energy to power homes, or on a larger scale, factories. It can become quite a virtuous cycle, helping the movement towards a more closed-loop economy.

Which industries stand out to you for pushing sustainability goals further?

The big hyper-scale cloud providers, like Google and Amazon, are doing a lot. Sure, they’ve got a far bigger capacity than most to install renewables like solar or wind farms. But they’ve also got the funds required to carry out a lot of research, and they’re making big, bold strides.

What’s important to remember is that converting ‘dirty’ practices to ‘green’ won’t happen overnight. Naturally, we all want these things to happen in the here and now, and the societal momentum is certainly here for that. However, to make a real impact, we need to make these changes intelligently, and properly, and that requires patience. It’s pointless instigating processes that cause more issues further down the line!

Moreover, it’s a balancing act of risk. Data systems are enormous and incredibly complex, so we’ve got to make sure that any sustainable changes allow operations to continue in a safe manner.

Across the board, there are lots of cool things in the pipelines, quite literally! For example, converting natural gas pipelines to transport gaseous hydrogen as an energy resource. It’s a really exciting time.

Do you think businesses are interested in implementing technology to support and improve their sustainability credentials? 

Absolutely! Every ‘change’ goes through phases. It’s all about having sensible conversations and being at the forefront of trying to really understand these technologies to get the best from them. Greener products are becoming closer to real market readiness, but they require huge amounts of effort and thinking.

It’s important to remember that in the UK especially, whilst renewable tech is great, our environment isn’t exactly one that can provide enough wind to produce electricity 24/7, 365 days a year! Investments need to be put into sourcing other, more effective renewables that work efficiently within our landscape. It’s time to get very grown-up about other technologies, and from there, businesses will find far greater effectiveness when implementing them within their processes.

Are companies doing enough to reduce their carbon emissions?

Amazon, Google, Facebook and so on are committed to reducing emissions, though it’s very easy for them to become targets because of the scale of their organisations! I definitely believe there’s real thought about practices and the right steps are being taken.

Within our business, we’re pushing a real focus on our entire supply chain and the carbon footprint that it leaves. At the end of the day, we’re preaching, so we better be practising too! Though we’re a relatively small company at the moment, in the next year we’re projecting a massive scale-up. We’re putting these policies and programmes in place now, proactively making decisions and implementing processes that will enable our growth in as sustainable a way as possible.

How can we balance a rise in data with a decrease in CO2 emissions?

The world is hungry for data, and the scope of what we can do with it increases day on day. We need energy to process data. But we need to think about where this energy comes from. Having renewable electricity generation capabilities, like solar and wind farms, is the first step. The second is pushing further investments into other renewable technologies too. At the minute, roughly still about 80% of our energy comes from carbon.

Using liquid cooling allows data centres to occupy far less space and brings the data closer to the consumer. So, we’re then using less energy to move the data around, and we can also use the residual heat to provide energy to other environments. Seeking ways to establish more closed-loop economies is an important way forward. The other instigator of change that we really require is better legislation. The government must show a proper commitment to getting the wheels in motion to drive green movements.

Can you share any examples of when you have enabled a business to become more sustainable?

At the minute, we’re working with two of the top five biggest data consumers in the world. We’ve also got some really exciting projects in the pipeline to help both big silicon companies and large cloud providers to reduce their energy use. They’re all very public-facing and they’re all very conscious about their environmental impacts.

The movement towards processing and storing data at the edge, or the extreme edge, is happening. In 2010, we were using 0.5 zettabytes of data; Gartner have predicted that we’ll be using 175 zettabytes by 2025. You don’t need me to tell you that’s a massive leap, but what I can tell you is that this brings the issue of data gravity. The more and more data we create, the harder it becomes to move.

It’s predicted that soon half of our data will be generated, processed, and stored outside of the data centre. As businesses battle for that extra second of computing power and speed, edge computing becomes more important. It’s becoming a whole new marketplace altogether.

We’re working with clients to help them distribute their data centres, moving data stores to extreme locations that we can still manage remotely. A knock-on effect is the dramatic increase to a product’s lifecycle, which also helps to reduce waste and keeps data centre stores running longer, smoother, and more efficiently.  

Mind, blown?! A big ‘thank you’ to David for sharing his views on sustainability practices and detailing Iceotope’s innovative technologies. We look forward to seeing how Iceotope continue to push boundaries within the data world.

Carlos Nisbet
Carlos Nisbet
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