The 2022 summer heatwave put IT infrastructures to the test. With UK temperatures soaring to a record-breaking 40.3°C at its peak, the country’s data center operators fought to provide adequate cooling, ensure uninterrupted connectivity, and prevent service disruptions. Traditionally, data centers were not designed with these temperatures in mind and many struggled to deal with the heat. It’s an acute challenge to precisely regulate the ambient temperature inside the data halls, with the smallest of changes outdoors making a big difference between success and failure.

As climate change escalates, the Royal Meteorological Society warns that 40°C summer temperatures will become a regular occurrence in the UK. Extreme temperature planning and preparation will need even greater consideration to prevent disruption as these events become more common. What learnings can data center providers therefore take from last year’s heatwave to ensure they effectively operate in a pressure cooker environment in the future?

Preparing our buildings for a hotter climate

Extreme weather preparation starts with having the right infrastructure in place upon which the correct processes and procedures established can be built, to ensure resilience.

Modern data centers are designed to withstand temperatures of around 44°C, but for older ones which were designed for temperatures up to 35-38°C, it’s certainly a challenge to retrospectively fit and prepare them for extreme heat. It’s not just high temperatures that need to be considered either, events like Sudden Stratospheric Warmings (SSWs), which can cause cold conditions in winter, are also being affected by climate change. The industry needs to be prepared for these colder temperatures in winter too, all the while meeting ESG and sustainability targets.

Reusing waste heat, utilizing high temperature liquid cooling system and low power servers, as well as leveraging hot and cold aisle containment are all tools that can help prepare older buildings for the conditions facing us in the years ahead. Many of these systems also have a dual purpose making the building more energy efficient. For example, liquid used for immersion cooling is a more efficient conductor of heat than air.

Year-round servicing and maintenance to deal with extreme temperatures

With the right infrastructure in place, processes and procedures are the next consideration. Here it’s about planning the holistic year-round servicing, maintenance and testing cycle with the changing seasons in mind.

Ahead of the summer and following winter season, it’s important to prepare data centers for the temperatures and stresses ahead. For example, it’s essential that cooling units are in peak condition ahead of summer, whereas some of the cooling equipment can be turned down in winter to ensure energy efficiency.

Regular servicing and planned preventative maintenance work should also be factored into the changing seasons. This will not only ensure equipment is prepared for the stresses it faces, but also that major works aren’t required to take place during extreme weather events. It’s often during these events that supply issues can occur, so again, preparedness is key.

All hands to the pump

With the right equipment in place and a holistic maintenance schedule that ensures peak preparedness, the third component is a proactive approach to emergencies. When extreme temperatures strike, a well-rehearsed plan should be implemented to minimize downtime risk and ensure any issues that do occur can be swiftly resolved.

With all non-essential maintenance postponed, emergency reaction teams of engineers should be stationed in strategic locations around the building. It should not be ‘business as usual unless something breaks’. Instead, these teams can jump on issues as soon as they occur, with each minute saved critical. For example, a reactionary team of engineers should be ready on the roof to fix the cooling systems if needed.

An additional advantage of colocated data centers is the resources available to them to ensure continuity, and this includes access to people and skills. For some pieces of equipment, there may only be a handful of engineers deployed by a manufacturer in a certain geographic location. Larger data center providers have the size, scale and relationships to ensure priority assistance from these providers in an emergency.

Prevention is the best cure

By ensuring data centers are equipped for our changing climate and the right people with the right skills are ready to respond to even the smallest issue, the industry can ensure that the UK’s IT infrastructure is ready and prepared for whatever lies ahead.

Data centers tread a fine line betweemn success and failure, where no two days are the same and one domino falling can cause a huge ripple effect. What became clear in the summer of 2022 is that in order for data centers to stay the right side of that fine line, is preparedness and proactivity are two of the best tools to cope with the evolving demands.

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