Energy-guzzling data centers are a thing of the past. At Schneider Electric’s factory and cooling center, we get a behind-the-scenes look at how the energy giant is developing the latest technology to power massive data centers — and keep them energy efficient.
by Dominika Maslikowski
Everything is changing, Samir El Hassanin of Schneider Electric tells me. We are on a motorboat speeding away from Venice, where we’d just had dinner after a day full of presentations on new trends in the energy industry. Energy efficiency was never much of a concern for data centers in Egypt and the Middle East, El Hassanin continues, because energy was always so available and cheap. But not anymore, the Dubai-based regional director of cooling solutions tells me. Companies today are not only concerned with conserving energy in their data centers, but also with saving money and space. As the boat cuts through the cold October wind and speeds away from the sinking city, El Hassanin talks about how Schneider is developing technology in line with these trends — whether it’s a massive data center with a chiller the size of a motor home or a small office with an efficient A/C system that cools from the floor upwards.
“The current geopolitical scenario and economic reforms in the Middle East and North Africa are driving governments and corporates to seek energy-efficient solutions,” El Hassanin says in a statement. “IT Cooling is one such area where efficiency needs to be embedded into technology and optimized for smarter businesses and infrastructure.”
What makes Schneider unique is how much of the research, development and production — from massive chillers to the energy- efficient floors — is done at one location. The next morning, we take a bus to Conselve, an hour’s drive from Venice, the site of Schneider’s Center of Excellence for Cooling.
We drive through wildly fertile lands, where ivy twists around telephone poles and streets are named after opera composers. When we arrive, we’re given a tour of the new chiller factory test lab. I spot El Hassanin mingling with clients who’ve come from across the region to preview Schneider’s latest technology.
Schneider Electric provides chillers for the data centers of huge clients like Google, Ferrari and Virgin Megastores. At the event in Conselve, representatives from Egypt’s banking, telecom and governmental sectors network with clients from across Europe, China, the United States and the Middle East.
Not only are Schneider’s test labs and production lines all in one convenient spot, but (as El Hassanin tells me) clients who use Schneider for all their cooling needs get a one-stop shop to go to for problem solving or upgrades. When your investment is in the billions, El Hassanin explains, the fact that your data center chillers, access floors (able to withstand the weight of data centers) and air-conditioning are all made by one provider is a huge — and critical — benefit.
This kind of efficiency is at the company’s core, and is the underlying link between all the presentations at the two-day event in Conselve and the stacks of brochures I pick up. Trends towards greener and more efficient energy, as well as regulations that demand reductions in carbon emissions, are shaping the entire company’s strategy and driving its innovations. “Sustainability is at the heart of our company strategy,” Schneider Electric CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire says in a statement. “We are convinced that better climate means better economy, and that energy access is a basic human right.”
“Regulations are changing, trends are changing,” says John Niemann, director of cooling product management. “In the next 10 years, the driving force will be energy efficiency, because today energy use is not sustainable. We have to reduce energy consumption and use more renewable energy.”
For a massive company like Schneider Electric, which numbers some 160,000 employees with 26.6 billion in revenues for 2015, this means staying fluid and innovative enough to keep atop the trends and the constantly changing regulations. The company spends some 5 percent of its revenue on research and development, says Anne-Marie Gignac, vice president of Cooling Business. In the next 40 years, energy consumption will grow by 40 percent, and regulations expect a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions.
This means the traditional data centers where energy flowed haphazardly and cheaply are relics of the past. Companies are now moving towards colocation, or data centers where a business can rent space for servers and other hardware. The concept of colocation isn’t yet widely popular in Egypt, explains Ossama Abou El-Wafa, field marketing expert, but Schneider reps are working to introduce such solutions to the region.
The future is also moving towards a cloud architecture of centralized, regional and localized data centers, Gignac says. This means a company will have a centralized center where the core of the data resides, a regional small data center that’s closer to the user and a localized center where the user needs access to the data at a high speed.
Hyperscale and large data centers are reducing their carbon footprint by moving from the traditional 7°C to 10°C or higher operation, which means less power consumption, new refrigerants that are more green and adiabatic solutions, which minimize water usage, says Maurizio Frizziero, product line manager of air economizers and chillers.
“We are working continuously or else we’ll be out,” Frizziero says. “Cooling is cooling. But the world changes so rapidly that we need to follow it.”