Cooling Off the Cloud: Extreme Heat Hits Data Centers

Cooling Off the Cloud: Extreme Heat Hits Data Centers

When data is stored in a cloud, it’s housed in data centers scattered across the world. And like all other human-made infrastructure, those facilities are impacted by the intensifying weather conditions of climate change. When London hit record temperatures last month, Google Cloud data centers located there suffered a cooling failure, knocking them offline for a day.

To some, the fact that digital infrastructure breakdowns caused by climate change are already happening comes as no surprise. A report from last year found that almost half of data centers faced a weather event that threatened their ability to keep operating.

"It wasn’t that long ago that we were designing cooling systems for a peak outdoor temperature of 32 degrees,” Jon Healy, who works for the UK data center consultancy Keysource, told WIRED. They’re over 8 degrees higher than they were ever designed for.”

Kalkine Media: Google, Oracle data centres affected by London heat, July 20, 2022

Why This Matters

People and their digital lives depend on data centers, but they can’t work if they overheat. These facilities require large amounts of energy and water to operate and cool. In the US, which houses about 30% of the world’s data centers, they account for 2% of national electricity use. While rising temperatures impair functioning ability, they provide an opportunity to reconsider how data centers operate and cool down, and ways they could reduce their overall energy use.

Our Changing Climate: Is the Internet bad for the environment?, July 19, 2019.

FRANCE24: The hidden pollution of the internet, March 3, 2017.

Data Centers of the Future

According to the Uptime Institute survey, most data center operators say they’re aware of the risks of climate change, but about a third (36%) report that their management hasn’t formally assessed their risk to climate change yet. Only 5% of managers are taking steps to improve resilience in response to the increased risk because of climate change.

To reduce their emissions imprint, as recent research points out, data centers could directly get their energy from wind or solar. "Purchasing renewable energy certificates from electricity providers does not necessarily reduce the water or carbon footprints of a data center,” the authors write. Another key: strategically choosing new facility sites that won’t require as much cooling or water resources.

Iron Mountain Data Centers: The Data Center Industry and Sustainability, April 22, 2021.

TBD Media Group: Green Mountain: The World’s Greenest Data Centre, July 9, 2021.

Soluna: Climate Change and Building Efficient Data Centers with Kevin Kent, September 24, 2019.

CNA: Investing in Sustainable Data Centres | Money Mind, May 3, 2022.