Updating cooling system ‘simplest’ capacity cliff solution

Josh Claman, CEO, Accelsius — a spin off of Nokia Bell Labs — talks with Data Centre Magazine on how tech leaders will focus on cooling to preserve growth

Following one of the hottest summers on record, the US data centre industry is rapidly approaching an energy-use cliff, Josh Claman says.

Claman, the CEO of Accelsius — a spin off of Nokia Bell Labs founded in 2022 — has more than 30 years of leadership experience driving growth in Fortune 100 companies, such as Dell and NCR. He says how as concerns over power supply and resource consumption grow, this data centre problem has the potential to derail the American tech industry. 

He details how in recent years, the US tech industry has expanded into ever more complex applications and the need for compute power is growing exponentially with ore data centres being built for the demand of generative AI and other hyperscale projects. But he fears these projects are revealing the current electric grid won’t be able to supply the power needed for continued growth. 

As a result of this, data centre operators are facing the prospect of stranded capacity, servers that sit idle as they can’t be powered. He advises that updating a data centre’s cooling system is one of the “simplest” and most cost effective solutions to the quickly approaching power cliff.

With a keen interest in problems facing the data centre industry —  whether hyperscale, midsize or colos —  he is a critical thinker at the forefront of groundbreaking technology for cooling electronics, developed in Nokia's historic Bell Labs.

Here, he sits down with Data Centre Magazine about power supply and resource consumption, the impact on the tech industry and how cooling systems integral to the growth of facilities and operators.

What concerns are there/do you have on power supply and resource consumption? What could this have on the tech industry? 

We're at a crossroads. Critical markets like Ashburn are running out of power, and operators are chasing areas with more power. The proliferation of AI exacerbates the power scarcity, requiring us to do more computing with less power. A backlash is inevitable, particularly regarding water usage as numbers rise. To mitigate this, we must proactively explore options to reduce power and water consumption, with a primary focus on cooling. 

Are there concerns that with the growing amount of data centre facilities being built, the current electric grid won’t be able to supply the power needed for continued growth?

Absolutely. And there’s really two ways to solve this:

  1. Bring new power to the grid. The industry is actively exploring this and there’s some interesting conversations going on, often led by Tony Grayson, about using nuclear energy for data centres. Renewable energy has long been looked at, but the unpredictability of it creates issues for a mission critical industry.
  2. Be smarter with the power we do have. We need electricity to power compute, but we do not need cooling. So, let’s re-allocate that electricity to compute and be smarter about cooling. Instead of blowing air across an entire room to cool one chip, let’s bring a smarter medium liquid direct to the source of the heat and remove it with a fraction, ~ 20%, of the energy previously used for cooling.

What is stranded capacity and how can facilities and operators ensure their survival?

Stranded capacity could mean a few different things, in my opinion. But I believe the biggest issue is stranded power capacity – where data centre operators have built and procured X amount of power for their data centre but are not able to use all of it. That could happen because they are having to create redundancies in case of down time or because of cooling challenges. We’re hearing of data centres stopping short of what they planned for because even if they have the power and space to add compute, they’ve run out of cooling. Liquid cooling can address this. 

What are the most effective ways/solutions to the power cliff? 

I truly believe liquid cooling is the most immediate and effective solution to avoid the ‘power cliff’. Liquid cooling, whether our solution or another providers’, can significantly reduce the electricity needed for data centre cooling. Trimming 40% of a data centre's power consumption is a substantial achievement. While figures may vary, we're confident that our NeuCool platform can slash cooling energy use by up to 80%. This doesn't necessitate an industry-wide overhaul or grid changes; it simply entails adopting a different cooling technology. 

Are cooling systems integral to the growth of facilities/operators? 

Power and cooling are what data centre managers study and perfect. Using both efficiently and learning to evolve to new technologies, like liquid cooling, will enable more computing with less energy AND water waste. 

Do you have any predictions for the future of the data centre industry/your role?

I anticipate that the next few years will usher in a new perspective on energy usage in data centres. The call for change will be urgent, driven by regulatory bodies in Europe and market forces in the industry. To immediately reduce energy consumption, we need to focus on the second-largest power consumer in the data centre industry, which is cooling, after computing itself. A transition toward liquid cooling is on the horizon, although it won't happen overnight. Recognizing that this will be a journey, forward-thinking operators should start testing and learning today. By the time action becomes imperative, they'll have already established a sustainable cooling strategy.

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