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Data Centers Work To Reduce Water Usage 225

Posted by timothy
from the hence-the-local-steam-baths dept.
miller60 writes "As data centers get larger, they are getting thirstier as well. A large server farm can use up to 360,000 gallons of water a day in its cooling systems, a trend that has data center operators looking at ways to reduce their water use and impact on local water utilities. Google says two of its data centers now are "water self-sufficient." The company has built a water treatment plant at its new facility in Belgium, allowing the data center to rely on water from a nearby industrial canal. Microsoft chose San Antonio for a huge data center so it could use the local utility's recycled water ('gray water') service for the 8 million gallons it will use each month."
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Data Centers Work To Reduce Water Usage

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  • Idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by YayaY (837729) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @06:37PM (#27525517) Homepage

    They should use closed circuit cooling system.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by h4rr4r (612664)

      That costs a lot more up front and depending on how much water you are using may never be worth it.

      • Re:Idea (Score:4, Insightful)

        by thhamm (764787) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @06:41PM (#27525551)
        it's always a closed circuit. just depends on the timescale.
    • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

      Significantly less efficient, especially if the relative humidity is low. (Incidentally, what is generally termed closed circuit just separates the condenser water from the cooling tower water, and still has equal evaporation.)

      Hopefully we will see more controls that optimize for water and electricity efficiency, but it is great to see people using grey water for cooling tower make-up... as long as they are not upwind from me!

      But, if you could distill the water with waste heat and solar, it might get inter

  • sooooo ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by quickOnTheUptake (1450889) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @06:44PM (#27525579)
    Not trying to flame, but honestly who cares how much water flows through a data center? Is the water having toxic waste added? Is the water being destroyed so it is creating a drought in the area? Are thousands of gallons an hour of boiling water being pumped back into the local stream and changing the ecology?
    It seems to me that most uses of water are pretty benign, it gets used for some purpose and eventually it all goes back into wild where it naturally get recycled back into the local watertable. Is there any environmentalist out there who can enlighten me on why the water "consumption" of a data center (or any other major plant) is an issue?
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      I believe one concern is merely that water companies may not be able to handle the load, which would mean they would upgrade. I am not really sure what is wrong with that though.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        it's expensive, very, very expensive.
        It can be hard to get a rate hike to cover it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by h4rr4r (612664)

          How is it hard to raise the price?
          In fact just doing that would influence folks not to waste it.

      • by Cylix (55374)

        When you consume millions of gallons of water it's not something you disclose after hooking up to the main.

        So it's a negotiated setup between two companies with the intention to reserve X amount.

        It's like any other industries that needs resources to operate and for the most part it is harmless.

        The concern I believe is the reliance and need on the great sums of water. Thus there is a good deal of focus on reducing cost and usage while maintaining the same level of performance. Essentially, an increase in eff

    • by Quothz (683368)

      Not trying to flame, but honestly who cares how much water flows through a data center?

      Whomever has to pay the water bill cares.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kelson (129150) *

      honestly who cares how much water flows through a data center?

      I take it you don't live in an area facing a water shortage?

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Then perhaps you guys should raise water prices?
        That might make an incentive for folks to stop using so much.

        • Re:sooooo ? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Kelson (129150) * on Thursday April 09, 2009 @07:05PM (#27525787) Homepage Journal

          That might make an incentive for folks to stop using so much.

          Yeah, it might prompt people to do something like try to cut down on how much water their data center uses.

        • Perhaps they ought to put their data centers in the Arctic instead of in California. Seems pretty obvious...
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            <Sarcasm> Yeah because there is a huge IT workforce in the Arctic and lots of others who want to move there from someplace like California. </Sarcasm>

            Currently in Canada you get huge tax breaks if you live in the arctic and company's have to pay huge incentives to get people to work up there. Which usually includes working in rotations such as 3 weeks up there and 2 weeks paid off with free transportation south.
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by plover (150551) *

              <Sarcasm> Yeah because there is a huge IT workforce in the Arctic and lots of others who want to move there from someplace like California. </Sarcasm>

              So what? You get a couple of Inuit electricians to run cables for you and drive the forklifts. The rest of the work is done over the tubes. At that point, it's JBOC -- Just a Building full Of Computers.

              The best bet is to put it as close to its energy sources as possible, in the least humanly desirable geographic location -- siting it on a reclaimed Superfund dump in the middle of the Arctic next to an oil well and refinery sounds pretty effective to me.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by geekoid (135745)

          that doesn't work as well as one might think. It becomes a very messy political issue.

          Add to that, people need water to live then you realize that there is a pretty fixed price point.

          • People DO need water to live. Now HOW much water they need to live isn't fixed, so when water becomes scarce the price should go up to signal to people that they need to save.

            Prices are not just tags, they're the most important data in a market economy.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by EvanED (569694)

          That might make an incentive for folks to stop using so much.

          I'm sure all those people who live in $CITY_WITH_DATA_CENTER and have no decision-making abilities there, but would still be affected by rising prices, would get right on that.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by supernova_hq (1014429)
        I fail to see why the datacenter is "consuming" water instead of just "using" it. If they develop standards for the cooling system and have the incoming water passively cool internally filtered water, they should be able to pump the hot water out and back into the water system.

        Not only are you re-using the water without the need to re-filter it (assuming companies use safe parts), but if the water companies had any sense, they would use this free "hot" water and have incoming hot water to people homes! H
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jhw539 (982431)
          Datacenters, like 99% of facilities with large cooling loads, evaporate water to reject the heat. The water comes in and is essentially boiled off through devices called cooling towers. You reject 1000 btus per pound of water evaporated - there is no more efficient way to reject heat. Not coincidently (if you believe in evolution), your body rejects heat the exact same way.
          • Yes, but if they move the hot water back into the grid and take in more cold water, they no longer need the evaporators.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by jbengt (874751)

              Yes, but if they move the hot water back into the grid and take in more cold water, they no longer need the evaporators.

              Yes, and they'll only need about 30 times as much water then!
              Not to mention which, I don't want to drink any of that water they put back in the grid after it goes through some faceless company's ill-maintained cooling equipment.
              Anyway, you can't just pump fresh water through refrigeration equipment without destroying it from corrosion, scale build up and biological contamination.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by bakuun (976228)
          Actually, similar systems are in place in most decently large Swedish cities, called "distant heat" (i.e. heat that comes from a distance). However, instead of being used for showering, it is used to heat the buildings (i.e. circulated through radiators). It is very efficient, and any large nearby facility that produces heat can be hooked up to the system.

          It's a win-win situation - residents who want warm homes get access to heating, and corporations who want to cool their datacenters/furnaces/whatever ge
        • by SuperQ (431) *

          So you really don't seem to understand how datacenters are using water.

          Most of the cooling they use is Evaporative. They use the thermal property of evaporation to reduce the temperature hot return water. This is how they consume water, they just evaporate millions of gallons into the air.

          http://www.google.com/corporate/green/datacenters/summit.html [google.com]

          Most large buildings do this. You will see this type of cooling on any building larger than a small office. When I worked at the university, I would go up to

        • by mikael (484)

          Perhaps they should use the data center as a means of heating up water for the staff rooms, or have a feedback pipe back to the water mains supply.

        • they should be able to pump the hot water out and back into the water system.

          That hot water being introduced into the eco system messes it up.

          Just think, you could have an entire city that doesn't need individual hot-water tanks!

          Hot water tanks are an inefficient use of energy. They have to keep recycling on and off using a lot of energy. Now if solar water heaters [energysavers.gov] are used they lower the electricity or gas that would otherwise be used. As would instant on water heaters [tanklesswa...rguide.com]. But heated water that's pumped

    • Re:sooooo ? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday April 09, 2009 @07:30PM (#27525983) Homepage

      Not trying to flame, but honestly who cares how much water flows through a data center?

      Anyone who cares about their city and it's infrastructure.
       
       

      Is there any environmentalist out there who can enlighten me on why the water "consumption" of a data center (or any other major plant) is an issue?

      It doesn't take an environmentalist - all it takes is someone familiar with this issues who takes a moment to think.
       
      The problem is that the water for many cities and towns comes from aquifers or dams - which rely on rain to replenish. Many of these are already highly strained, even before the load of a data center is placed on them. The water taken from these sources is then treated, which costs money, and again many cities water systems are already strained because of the high capital cost of building new ones. Again, a data center consumes so much water that this just exacerbates the problem.

      • It doesn't take an environmentalist - all it takes is someone familiar with this issues who takes a moment to think.

        In the current climate, that makes you a commie environmentalist.

    • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

      You are using evaporation for cooling. Unless your relative humidity is already very high, the water isn't going to be precipitated out in the local region. If the relative humidity is that high, then you are better using air-cooled chillers rather than water-cooled chillers from an efficiency perspective.

      The other issue is that almost all water in the US is treated as drinking water. This requires significant energy and additives to sterilize and remove suspended substances. Water prices don't always r

    • by sjames (1099)

      In many areas where suitable drinking water is in short supply, there is already rationing such that watering lawns, filling swimming pools, and washing cars is strictly forbidden. Local governments may be hesitant to order datacenters to shut their A/C down, but may start charging them enough to encourage alternative cooling methods.

      It comes out of the common reservoir but that's not where it falls again (eventually) as rain. In other words, it doesn't destroy the water, it just takes it from where it's in

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jbengt (874751)

      Not trying to flame . . .

      I'll try to answer

      Is the water having toxic waste added?

      Usually a lot of chemicals are added to try to prevent corrosion, scale build-up, and biological contamination. Regulations are getting more restrictive about what can be added, but I still wouldn't recommend swimming in it.

      Is the water being destroyed so it is creating a drought in the area?

      Yes, so to speak. About half the "destruction" is from evaporation, making it unavailable to the system it was taken from. About

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Entropy2016 (751922)

      You have lots of hot water.
      You decide to expel it into a nearby stream or lake.
      Fish need dissolved oxygen.
      Hotter water is less able to keep dissolved gasses in solution (this is basic chemistry).
      You just forced all the dissolved oxygen to outgas by raising the temperature of the water.
      The fish/organisms suffocate and then decompose.
      Decomposition eats up even more dissolved oxygen.
      Anaerobic bacteria then take over the affected system.

      Now imagine you've introduced an large concentration of anaerobic bacteria

  • San Antonio? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Joffy (905928)
    I thought there was a big deal in San Antonio about a water shortage already. Isn't the Edwards aquifer being over taxed?
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      The water does not disappear, it runs in cold and comes out warm, is it not just going back into the water treatment system?

      Sounds like San Antonio needs to go to a closed loop water system, not data centers.

      • Re:San Antonio? (Score:5, Informative)

        by ajlitt (19055) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @06:53PM (#27525691)

        RTFA. The water loss is because many data centers use evaporative cooling towers.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          I guess that works in the south, here you would get frozen water 8 months out of the year.

          • Re:San Antonio? (Score:4, Informative)

            by jhw539 (982431) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @07:51PM (#27526135)
            Nope. If you're pushing 15 MW out of a couple towers 24/7 they will not freeze up. You do run the cooling tower fans backwards for a few minutes every once in a while to thaw any ice that forms from splashing on the intake louvers, but the tower itself doesn't freeze up. Last time I put a tower into a 0F design climate, I used a dry sump so if the tower wasn't on the basin was dry.

            An annoying fact of physics is that when it gets really cold, evaporative cooling becomes less effective. The air just can't hold much water, and it's the phase change from liquid to vapor that gets rid of your heat. So, it's not freezing that make low temperatures worrisome but actually loss of capacity.

      • Re:San Antonio? (Score:5, Informative)

        by demonbug (309515) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @07:02PM (#27525761) Journal

        That's the point - the water does get consumed. The simplest (cheapest) way to cool the water after running it through the data center is to use evaporation towers. As the name implies, you lose a substantial portion of the water to evaporation. Evaporation towers are very efficient in terms of power and material costs, but they go through a lot of water. Costs a lot more to construct a closed-loop system - you need some sort of giant radiator to cool the water. Evap tower you just build a hollow box, put some sprayers at the top, a collector at the bottom, and off you go.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Why cool it again at all?
          Just dump it down the drain and let the water treatment folks send it out again.

          Evaporative cooling is idiotic. It only works in hot dry places, the kind of places that are short on water.

          • by SuperQ (431) *

            It's not idiotic, it's very efficient, and as stated by TFA, you can use grey water.. stuff that has been cleaned after you shit in it.

            • by plover (150551) *

              TFA is talking about "grey water", not "black water". Grey water is water that has been used for cleaning (showers, laundry, bathing, etc.), but contains limited biological waste. Black water is the water that has the real sewage in it. Grey water typically requires less treatment than black water.

              In most cities and homes the two are always routed out a common sewer pipe, which has to be treated as if it were 100% black water. But in homes with limited septic systems, grey water is sometimes routed s

            • you can use grey water.. stuff that has been cleaned after you shit in it.

              That's blackwater [wikipedia.org] not greywater [wikipedia.org]. Greywater is the used water from the sink and shower/bathtub.

              Falcon

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          How about building data centers were it is not hot as hell? Where I am you can just pump your glycol to the storage tank that is on top of the building and back 8-10 months of the year.

        • What goes up....
  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @06:48PM (#27525637) Journal

    Microsoft chose San Antonio for a huge data center so it could use the local utility's recycled water ('gray water') service for the 8 million gallons it will use each month."

    I don't know about the rest of you. But *I* certainly don't want to breathe the air near a cooling tower fed with gray water. The risk of Legionella from CLEAN water in a cooling tower's spray that was contaminated by a bit of local dirt is bad enough. Imagine the risk from breathing the dust particles from partially-treated sewage aerosolized to the tune of 180 gallons per minute.

    Sounds like another good reason to avoid Microsoft sites. (Bet they're doing this elsewhere, too.)

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      You don't aerosolise water to cool a data center. You run the incoming cold water through a heat exchanger, and blow air across the other side of the heat exchanger.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        No you don't.

        - You run the cooling water through a heat exchanger, picking up the heat from the refrigerant.
        - Then you run the warmed cooling water over a series of baffles in front of a fan.
        - The baffles break the water up into small droplets. The fan encourages part of each droplet to evaporate, cooling the rest.
        - Then you collect the droplets and run them past through the heat exchanger again.
        - You also monitor the water level in the droplet collector and add new

    • by Chabo (880571)

      ... What kind of water-cooling system lets the water evaporate into the air?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by h4rr4r (612664)

        Swamp cooling, in places were it is hot and the humidity is low it works. Which is exactly were you should not be wasting water as most hot dry places have a lack of water.

      • by Qzukk (229616) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @07:07PM (#27525801) Journal

        What kind of water-cooling system lets the water evaporate into the air?

        Your sweat, as an example.

        • by Chabo (880571)

          Allow me to rephrase:
          What kind of computer water-cooling system lets the water evaporate into the air?

          • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

            It evaporates outside in the cooling tower.

            Data CenterCRAC UnitsChillerCooling Towers

            It is also used for swamp coolers (direct or indirect) in some climates, but that is a bit of a pain.

            Not using water evaporation means that you need about 30% more electricity during the summer. It is more expensive to have two different systems to allow for using water evaporation just for peak shaving electrical demand.

      • by demonbug (309515) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @07:12PM (#27525839) Journal

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rancho_Seco_Nuclear_Generating_Station.jpg [wikipedia.org]

        See those big towers? Those are evaporative cooling towers. Simple, cheap, and highly efficient in terms of energy costs to operate (not so much in terms of water usage).

        Ever wonder why power plants that use steam-driven generators (coal, gas, nuclear) tend to be located near large bodies of water? Same issues that high-density data center operators are discovering.

        • by daybot (911557) *

          I love the solar panels in the foreground of this picture. Talk about greenwashing!

          • I love the solar panels in the foreground of this picture. Talk about greenwashing!

            Rancho Seco was decommissioned in 1989. Since then, a public park, gas-fired power plant and massive solar installation have been built on the grounds. The towers are now empty.

        • by pipingguy (566974) *
          See those big towers? Those are evaporative cooling towers

          I think you are mistaken. Those are actually Poison Towers (it says so, right in these official drawings stolen from the plant by one of our freedom-fighting operatives), designed to kill the local population with nucular radiation and make those 3 eyed fish we see on the Simpsons.

          The solution to the current "perception problem" is to fire most current journalists and hire engineering students part time.
      • Many industrial grade AC / refrigeration / ice-making systems spray water over the the condenser coils to improve the efficiency of the system as the evaporating water absorbs much more heat than would the air itself. Especially on hot days. Combined with a large blower fan and low ambient air temperatures, this can actually result in a small snow flurry next to the condenser stack (as if Chicago winters were not already bad enough).
      • by plover (150551) *
        Many metropolitan cities have energy companies that use evaporative cooling towers [google.com] to provide chilled water to office towers for air conditioning.
    • I think you may be confusing grey water with black water...
    • Denver is semi-arid -- the only way grass and trees can grow is through irrigation. Water is also not in abundant supply.

      Since 2005, parks in Denver are irrigated with treated sewage. As well, the man-made lakes are filled with the same treated sewage, and there are paddleboats on said lakes. (And as a further water conservation measure, said lakes are now getting swimming-pool vinyl liners.)

      If you fear treated sewage, you'd best avoid Denver parks, especially around 10:00pm when the high-powered sprinkl

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Perhaps a better idea would be to not grow grass and trees in denver?

        Maybe people could try living in places that actually have water?

    • Gray water is not sewage. It generally comes from dishwater, laundry, and collected rainfall (ie. from rooftops).

      You wouldn't want to drink it, but you could almost certainly swim it with no ill health effects. It's no worse than most pond/river waters.

    • by dbIII (701233)

      I don't know about the rest of you. But *I* certainly don't want to breathe the air near a cooling tower fed with gray water

      That is exactly the situation with large cooling towers now. People wear face masks when they go inside them because the temperature is fairly ideal to incubate a variety of bugs and there can be a large supply of nutrients that go in from normal lake or river water. I had the interior of one described to me as like the hanging gardens of Babylon - great big threads of algae hanging

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday April 09, 2009 @06:53PM (#27525685) Homepage Journal

    fill the data centers with mineral oil, their heating problems would be solved~

  • by fred fleenblat (463628) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @06:53PM (#27525687) Homepage

    So, theoretically, through the use of evaporative cooling at large data centers, local humidity could rise, and...cloud computing could produce actual clouds?

  • Wouldn't it be possible to turn these data centers into water purification stations by boiling it and collecting/condensing the steam? They could *add* fresh water to the system instead of using it if they were given sea water (if the conduits could be cleaned of the residue left behind).

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Sure, once you figure out how the servers are going to survive at 100C. Then once you got that solved you can figure out how the techs survive at 100C.

      • by saiha (665337)

        This is actually a problem that is already starting. Hardware designers are making their systems to survive hotter and hotter temperatures (I think rackable is one). This is great because it requires less energy to cool the systems, however it creates a very poor work environment for the techs who have to keep the systems running.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          If they can build boxes that can stand 100 degrees F, then they won't need cooling, they will just need fans and a few open windows.

          I know the original statement was in C, not F.

      • by BlueMonk (101716)

        I thought the heat could be condensed so that even though the servers didn't run that hot, it could be compressed enough to evaporate water (in which case I suppose you'd need to use air instead of water... maybe transfer the heat from the water to air, then compress the air?) Isn't this the principal on which industrial air conditioners work?

    • One problem with your idea (other than the extreme heat issue), is that datacenters usually use purified water. Radiators, heat exchangers and even basic water-cooling pipes are usually not designed to handle impurities in water.

      Purifying the water after, or even during the cooling process would end up costing more money in replacement parts that get wrecked from the un-purified water going through them.
    • by giorgist (1208992)
      Cool, and they can use the salt to coat the inside of the pipes for shits and giggles
  • Why so much water? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by icebike (68054) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @07:12PM (#27525845)

    Why don't these systems cool and reuse the water like every other air conditioning system in the world?

    Why are they still using evap-based system, when that was pretty well disappeared from the building cooling industry 30 years ago?

    How many big buildings do you see emitting steam clouds anymore?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by h4rr4r (612664)

      That would cost more. These systems have to deal with way more heat.

    • Well, it's just a compromise between water & electricity costs.

      If you let some water evaporate, your cooling towers are more efficient and what's left from cooling water comes back at a lower temperature than in a closed cooling tower, thus allowing your chiller to work with a better coefficient of performance : you need more water but less electricity for a given cooling power.

      BTW, steam is invisible ;)

    • by jhw539 (982431) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @07:36PM (#27526021)
      I'm guessing you must not be from the US because evaporation based cooling systems are THE standard for state of the art industrial and commercial cooling in the US. If you have over 250 tons of load, you have an open cooling tower - dead standard ASHRAE design. The evaporation of water via a cooling tower is THE way you reject heat. If you want to do it dry (as is common in Europe due to much higher fear of Legionella and local code officials freaking out about it), it is FAR less efficient in almost every case, even in monsoon climates like Banglore a wet cooling tower is more efficient.
    • evaporative is cheaper

    • by daybot (911557) *

      Energy/fuel market fluctuations and the state of local market pricing are two of the most important factors in HVAC system selection. In my area, electricity is 10x more expensive than natural gas, so nobody uses electric water heaters. In the same area 40 years ago, people installed paraffin heaters because that was cheapest for a while.

      I can understand how tapping into (groan) a constant supply of cold mains water could, in some areas, be cheaper than traditional closed-circuit A/C. It does seem terribly

  • I envision a future where instead of our computers being powered by water wheels and turbines, they are powered by electricity. Don't dismiss my idea out of hand! It will take lots of work, but I believe we can harness the power of the electron and eliminate this massive waste of water in the long term.

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