Top tips for micro data centres – vital considerations for successful MDC operation

25 May 2021

David Craig, CEO, Iceotope

David Craig, CEO, Iceotope

There are growing pressures on the technology market, from shareholders, lawmakers and the public, to be more efficient, reduce carbon emission and be more sustainable. Where once data centre performance, at any cost, was the mantra for financial and corporates, this has now started to change.

We already have some of the answers and I’d like to share some top tips when considering micro data centres. These can be of various sizes and complexities and are generally described as self-contained compute centres that have processors, storage, communications and cooling capabilities connected together in a box, cabinet, or container, depending on location or requirement.

Top tip 1: The micro data centre increasingly needs to work in your environment for your needs – in the real world and not an air-conditioned technical space

The new demand drivers such as IoT, AI and ML workloads and locating the servers close to the users, indicates that new micro data centres must evolve from the current standard architecture. Placing powerful IT equipment away from the protected, environmentally controlled data centre and into challenging real-world scenarios requires a different mindset.

Applications, such as start-up firms modeling and testing new AI algorithms, to larger deployments in semi-controlled environments, for example, factories or warehouses, are finding air-cooled servers impractical for today’s high-performance local micro data centres.

Whatever form factor is chosen, there are servers offering highly efficient liquid cooling technology that will complement the application, offer scalable capabilities and comply with your sustainability credentials.

Top tips 2: Energy use – sustainability targets will increase the need for energy efficiency everywhere

Micro data centres for HPC applications will ‘run hot’. The latest GPUs can draw around 400 watts, they use more energy and generate more heat that must be efficiently removed, or server damage will occur. For many MDC installations the environment is unsuitable for air-cooling powerful enough to cool dense servers. Liquid cooling is effective and efficient. By precisely targeting server hotspots and precision immersing all necessary heat sources in highly efficient dielectric fluid, these systems offer 1000 times the heat capacity of air. The waste heat can also be upcycled and reused; a further benefit to overall energy utilisation. We cannot use “edge” compute with existing technologies and meet our ESG targets. Its as simple as that.

Top tip 3: High-performance systems – in easily contaminated environments

Locating high-performance micro data centres in non-environmentally controlled sites, requires consideration of warranty conditions for IT equipment as well as maintenance regimes, including temperature, humidity, pollution and condensation. Micro data centres are usually single skin containers which risk exposing sensitive IT components to the elements, whenever the location is in use or access to the MDC is required. Consideration must be given to the possibility that the following occurrences may impact the IT equipment’s performance and reliability, or even the manufacturer’s warranty:
• Cold Day - What would happen to the inlet airstream to the IT equipment if the door was opened on a very cold day (i.e. –5°C, 23°F)? and what if that was below the specified limit of the IT equipment?
• Air Pollution - What if opening a door allows high levels of air pollution to access the interior? Could this initiate component corrosion?
• Dust - What if the micro data centre was located in a dusty climate where air coming in through an open door bypassed the filtration system? What if the MDC was is in an environment where machinery generates dust through its operation?
• High Humidity - What if maintenance was needed on a rainy day when relative humidity was close to 95% rh, i.e. above the IT equipment’s specified limit?

ASHRAE TC9.9 has recently produced a report on considerations for Edge Computing and it is well worth a read -

Conclusion: immersion cooling provides the most effective environment for micro data centres

Chassis level liquid cooling directly addresses most, if not all, the challenges and considerations raised above. Liquid cooling eliminates the need for server fans, which are expensive, costly to operate and are a failure point. As the hot components are immersed in a cooling liquid, no air-cooling system is required. With no air cooling or fans, server layout can be further optimised.

Another key benefit is that energy efficiency is greatly increased as power is used to operate the ITE and not to cool the surrounding environment. Last but not least, being sealed and immersed there is an impenetrable barrier to dust and contaminants, ensuring the server components do not corrode whilst extending the server’s operational life.