A Chinese company uses lake water to cool data center
Wednesday, Sep 9th 2015

AliCloud, the cloud computing division of the Chinese Alibaba Group, has made a data center with a unique twist: It's cooled by water from a nearby lake. This is quite interesting, and deserves some notice because using water to cool a data center isn't something that's considered an industry standard. Most data centers use artificial air conditioning systems, which are extremely expensive and not very energy efficient, as they suck up quite a bit of electricity. 

The data center, which is located near Qiando Lake in Zhejiang Province, is extraordinarily efficient with this cooling method. The lake water can keep data center temperature down while also cutting the building's energy costs nearly 80 percent compared to mechanical cooling methods.

Not the first, but still something to watch
Although this was quite an impressive feat, AliCloud was not the first to think of cooling a data center with water. Like many technological advances, Google was one of the first. The search engine giant acquired a paper mill in Hamina, Finland, back in 2009 with plans to turn it into a data center. Using a pre-existing tunnel system in the paper mill, Google engineers pumped in seawater and created one of the first data centers to be cooled with water.

Google may have been one of the first to cool server equipment with water, however, AliCloud has them beat with what to do with the hot water once the data center has been cooled. Returning hot water to a cool lake or sea is pretty environmentally irresponsible, and with this in mind Google made sure to mix in non-heated seawater before returning it all to the ocean

This certainly solves the environmental problem, but AliCloud found a way to make this process even more efficient. When the Chinese data center is finished with its hot water, it simply uses the excess heat to warm nearby buildings. By cutting cooling and heating costs while being environmentally friendly, AliCloud has found a way to make sure everyone wins.

And while keeping data center temperature down with cold water is certainly a huge leap forward for the industry, there isn't a system designed yet that has a 100 percent chance of never failing. Cooling structures can fail, and when they do data center equipment can be severely damaged.

For this reason, even data centers with the most technologically-advanced cooling system need to have a temperature sensor in the server room. A temperature monitor, such as the plethora of devices available through ITWatchDogs, have high temperature alarms built in. This means that anytime the server room reaches an undesirable temperature, key employees are notified via text so that precautionary steps can be made.