Cloud Computing

Google and Oracle’s London data centers fry in heat wave

Keeping data centers cool is challenging even without an unprecedented heatwave.
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

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The heat is on. A melting airport runway and a “huge surge” in fires took the headlines last Tuesday as temperatures roared to an unprecedented 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit (40.3 degrees Celsius) in parts of the UK, but data infrastructure fried as well. Several server farms belonging to Google and Oracle couldn’t keep cool enough to continue running and temporarily went offline.

Oracle blamed “unseasonably high temperatures in the UK South (London) region” for outages stretching from 1pm local time on Tuesday July 19 to 11am the next day, stating that cooling units forced beyond their limits failed and caused a protective shutdown of Compute infrastructure. At around 6:30pm on Tuesday, Google noted “multiple concurrent failures to our redundant cooling systems” that resulted in disruptions ranging from under a day to over 36 hours. According to Bloomberg, WordPress was among Google’s affected customers.

Data centers are already digital ovens. As of 2020, data centers were estimated to suck up around 1% of all worldwide electrical use—and when servers consume that energy, they generate waste heat.

According to the Aspen Global Change Institute, in 2014 about 43% of electricity consumed by data centers went to cooling and power provision systems. Unfortunately, the 2010s were relatively balmy compared to the temperatures scientists say the planet is headed for thanks to the human-induced climate crisis. Regardless of how unreasonable unseasonable the laws of thermodynamics might seem to cloud providers, they do mean cooling systems have to work harder to keep up as the mercury rises…assuming power grids will even be able to keep up.

Water guzzlers. Data-center cooling is projected by Arizton to be a $3.5 billion industry by 2025. Emerging technologies like geothermal and solar cooling or heat recovery hold the potential to offset costs, but largely remain in their infancy.

Per Bloomberg, some data-center operators took to spraying cooling units on rooftops with hoses—a less-than-ideal solution that could lower the lifetime of the equipment. Many hyperscale cloud providers like Amazon and Google rely on guzzling billions of gallons of water a year (with some facilities using millions of gallons a day) to keep cool under normal circumstances, though they try to avoid disclosing just how much. Long-term, according to the GCN, many providers paying far under the true cost for water may be in for a rude price adjustment or may have to reconsider the location of future projects entirely.—TM

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Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to software development and gaming. Our IT Brew newsletter delivers the latest news and analysis of trends shaping the IT industry, like only The Brew can.