With data centers now occupying millions of square feet and processing more data than ever before, cooling them can understandably be a challenging feat.

“I've gotten the opportunity to tour mostly hyperscale type data centers through my job, and they're really massive, and they're very impressive in scale, but they're not very clever,” David Kandel, of HVAC controls company Belimo, said during a conversation at DCD>Connect, Silicon Valley.

“We're not doing anything innovative or interesting. We're just doing the same things we do everywhere else, just huge,” he continued.

“There’s this hiccup in data centers in that we're measuring a lot of things; there's data, voltage transformer meters all over the damn building, and flow meters and temperature sensors. But everything we're measuring becomes an accounting of what happened, it becomes a look in the rearview mirror, so to speak.”

Other industries can be seen utilizing the very highest level of controls, leveraging all that information to make better strategic decisions, or decisions about what is being controlled in real time.

“I don’t think that’s something we’re doing [in the data center industry] at all. We’re using that kind of information to troubleshoot something broken instead of what we can look for in a positive way. Today, we have the ability to put performance devices in place that are going to give you a massive amount of control,” said Kandel.

Rinse and repeat

For the last 25 years or so, building a data center has generally been a case of copying and pasting the one before, only slightly better. Now, owners and operators need to start planning for what their deployment is going to look like in five or maybe even 10 years' time in a period of significant change.

“If I have a chiller or an evaporative unit that's feeding CRAH units today, what would that look like in 10 years if that same thing was making some kind of chilled fluid and sending it to CPUs, which are then distributed out? How can I take the same fundamental components I have and repurpose them going forward?”

Speaking of going forward, as the heat densities of chips continue to rise, physics simply won’t allow us to cool them in a traditional way, which begs the question, is liquid the future of data center cooling?

“I'm not saying in five years that everything's going to be liquid cooled. That's nonsense. But liquid cooling isn't going to be a decision we choose to make; it's going to be a decision that has to be made,” said Kandel. “I'm all for liquid cooling. We're in the liquid controls business. But the reality is, it's coming. I just don't think there's a lot of agreement yet on what it's going to look like.”

One thing’s for certain: It's not a casual decision. We're on the precipice of a change in technology that's going to require us to rethink a lot of long-held and massively entrenched paradigms.

In order to progress, when it comes to our cooling strategy, we not only need to be building forward-thinking facilities for tomorrow, but ensuring they’re also backward compatible for today.

To find out how Belimo can help you control your cooling, you can watch the full DCD>Talk here.