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Pollution Limits Cooling Options for Chinese Data Centers

We first encountered air-borne pollution as a threat when we reported about the impact of volcanic ash on Icelandic data centers. Man-made pollution is also an issue.

Cooling costs can be as much as 40% of a data center's energy expense. The use of naturally-occurring cold air, called "free cooling" or "air side economization", is an increasingly popular tactic to reduce those costs. Air pollution, natural or man-made, can clog and corrode these types of cooling systems. wrote in August 2015, "The high concentration of pollutants in the atmosphere...makes 'free cooling' in China data centers not as easily obtainable as it is in the US...Air pollution in China has resulted in higher IT equipment failure rates for Baidu, the internet giant that’s the country’s answer to Google."

A June 2016 job posting for a Senior Datacenter Mechanical R&D Engineer suggests Chinese data centers are looking at innovative liquid cooling as an alternative to free air cooling. "At Baidu your working knowledge of IT hardware, cooling systems, power distribution systems, space planning, network physical plants, and site logistics will be challenged to develop scalable and lean building infrastructure. Mastery of the datacenter operations, construction, and design practices are essential. It is essential that you have experience with designing and analyzing novel cooling solutions. Experience with and [sic] liquid cooling systems is desirable. You must also possess the ability to perform detailed energy and water demands."

It would help improve China's environmental situation if large data center operators advocated for clear air as well as engineered work-arounds.