The Data Center Frontier Executive Roundtable features insights from industry executives with lengthy experience in the data center industry. Here’s a look at the insights from Kevin Facinelli of Nortek Data Center Cooling.
Kevin Facinelli, is Group President for Nortek Data Center Cooling, a segment of Nortek, St. Louis. Nortek Data Center Cooling offers efficient, sustainable cooling solutions to fit the needs of any data center – from chip to plant. Facinelli is an operations and technology specialist with experience in IoT, supply chain optimization, industrial technology and other disciplines. He is the former executive vice president of operations for Daikin Applied Americas, Minneapolis, Minn. Prior to Daikin, Facinelli was vice president of manufacturing and technology, Johnson Controls Inc., Milwaukee, Wis.
Here’s the full text of Kevin Facinelli’s insights from our Executive Roundtable:
Data Center Frontier: What is the current state of data center rack density, and what lies ahead for cooling as more users put artificial intelligence to work in their applications?
Kevin Facinelli: Rack density is undoubtedly increasing due to artificial intelligence and other emerging applications. However, it’s difficult to predict how much cooling future heat loads will require. The best strategy to employ now is future-proofing a data center facility and ensuring there’s flexibility to adapt the cooling infrastructure to any anticipated heat loads.
Water-based cooling has a brighter future than air cooling because its a more energy-efficient and effective heat transfer method. Furthermore, chilled water systems are probably best known for supplying fan coil walls, but they can also bring cooling directly to a rack via rear door heat exchangers and cold plate chip cooling. Today, many applications don’t require cooling at the rack, but it’s a huge advantage to have the water-based cooling infrastructure already in place to inexpensively bring chilled water directly to expanded racks.
One strategy for increased rack density heat loads is the cooling distribution unit (CDU). The capital cost of CDUs discourages some operators to use them, but now there are alternatives. Instead, rear door heat exchangers, cold plate chip cooling and other less expensive methods are more cost-effective alternatives. That’s where future-proofing pays dividends. Instead of expanding a traditional cooling infrastructure that wasn’t designed for scalability, there are cutting-edge cooling plants available today that are flexible and designed for scalability. That’s the best strategy for approaching future rack density heat loads.
Data Center Frontier: Many industries are experiencing difficulty finding enough skilled workers. What’s the outlook for data center staffing, and what are the key strategies for finding talented staff?
Kevin Facinelli: The skilled maintenance workforce is shrinking and there’s no indication when that labor pool will expand. Therefore, data center operators should look toward cooling sources that require less staffers to maintain, service and oversee them. Traditional data center cooling methodologies, such as chiller/cooling tower systems, have always demanded intensive maintenance. Their compressors, cooling towers and chilled water loops all need routine maintenance that requires skilled labor. Refrigerant-based cooling system maintenance workers need additional training such as EPA Section-608 Certifications just to handle refrigerants.
Even evaporative cooling systems are known for frequent media replacement. They use direct heat exchange contact with outdoor air that transfers environmental contaminants to the water and necessitates frequent holding tank cleaning. All of these tasks are performed by data center staffers, or outsourced to contractors, or a combination of both.
One reason data center operators are moving toward cooling plants employing indirect evaporative cooling is the reduced maintenance costs. Polluted outdoor air is not inducted directly into the data center, but instead, it’s thermally transferred indirectly via heat exchangers. This reduces maintenance for the data center’s air and water, because there’s no direct contact with outdoor air contaminants, as is the case with direct evaporative cooling and chiller/cooling tower systems.
Furthermore, indirect evaporative cooling systems are typically refrigerant-free, which saves a significant amount of skilled labor for maintenance. Some indirect cooling technologies are fully instrumented, pre-configured, pre-optimized equipment that operate as self-contained, turnkey cooling plants versus a collection of remote components requiring compatible configuration. Periodic monitoring and calibration of remote pieces of equipment, that was once the job of a maintenance staffer, is now handled by the cooling plant’s on-board control package or the building management system (BMS) via plug-and-play integration.
Data Center Frontier: How have enterprise data center needs evolved during the pandemic? What do you expect for 2021?
Kevin Facinelli: Remote working during the pandemic significantly increased network traffic and all the demands associated with it, such as larger heat loads. These demands are pushing a shift in which businesses running their own enterprise data centers, which may not be their expertise, are looking to other solutions, such as outsourcing these emerging demands to colocations and hyperscale operators.
However, those businesses looking to continue managing their own enterprise systems are looking for more simplification to accommodate growing IT demands. One way to simplify data center management is to commission vendors that have the comprehensive complement of equipment that’s needed for a task, such as cooling. Instead of a collection of different cooling equipment vendors, we see enterprise operators looking for vendors that supply everything from a self-contained cooling plant to the cooling terminal units, such as fan coil walls, rear door heat exchangers, cold plate chip coolers and computer room air handlers (CRAH). In other words, they want a single-source-responsibility type of vendor with a service network to support it.
Data Center Frontier: Edge computing continues to be a hot topic. How is this sector evolving, and what use cases and applications are gaining the most traction with customers?
Kevin Facinelli: We see the edge computing sector evolving as network capabilities evolve, such as 5G. High speed network connections still need to connect back to accommodating facilities, such as a hyperscalers or large colocation. Another issue that is driving edge computing, is data privacy. The whole idea of social media is to globalize communication, but some countries have restrictions.
So large cloud computing companies are building data centers within regions where the data can be monitored and restricted by the respective country. As data privacy issues evolve in different countries globally, localized data solutions, versus global solutions, will continue to increase, which we think will help grow business as well.