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Sustainability leader Myers discusses waterless data centers on Digital Infra Network

July 7, 2022

Water conservation is a critical part of CyrusOne’s sustainability mission and goal to become a net zero company, and the net positive water operations at our Chandler, Arizona, campus is a key example of that commitment.

CyrusOne Global Director of Environmental Health, Safety & Sustainability Kyle Myers recently discussed waterless data centers and related water issues with Digital Infra Network Development Director Seb Auzonne. The London-based organization focuses on helping users understand where they are on their journey toward zero carbon and shares sustainable digital infrastructure thinking through interviews and presentations from leading operators, consultants and solution providers.

Auzonne kicked off the conversation by asking Myers to explain why data centers use water. Myers said evolving technology has allowed data centers to boost their server density per square foot to maximize compute power. But higher densities mean more chips operate in a smaller space and give off more heat. One of the prime focuses of data centers besides providing power to those servers is to keep those servers cool.

To keep the data center environment cool, data centers can use water-consuming technology, generally referred to as “evaporative cooling,” Myers said.

This removes the heat by evaporating water – and, at large scale, massive amounts of water.

“The other extreme to this, and there’s lots of technology in the middle, is using no water-consuming technology, which is the technology that CyrusOne favors,” Myers said. “We basically use air to cool the servers instead of water.”

A great example is the Chandler campus, which is water-consumption free when it comes to the cooling capability.

“We do consume water for things like humidification, some landscaping and bathrooms,” Myers explained. “But most of the water consumption from a typical data center would come from the cooling design. If you look at a campus that size, if we used evaporative cooling, we would consume around 15 million gallons of water each month – and that’s in a very arid, drought-prone region of the country.”

Auzonne called that an “amazing amount of water” and asked how much water CyrusOne saves at Chandler.

“We average a WUE [water usage effectives rate] of 0.04, which is exponentially low,” Myers said. “Within the collocation industry, the average WUE is 0.57. And in 2019, hyperscalers averaged 3.48, which was up from 3.2 in 2018.”

Chandler was the genesis of CyrusOne’s water-saving strategy, Myers told Auzonne. The campus is in an extremely high water-stress region. So, we significantly cut the facility’s water intake by using our water-free cooling design, using only small amounts for humidification, facility maintenance and domestic water. We also teamed with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and the Arizona Land and Water Trust to restore water flows to the region using Water Restoration Certificates, which are generated by helping local farmers switch to high-efficiency irrigation systems that allow more water to stay in natural waterways. For this work, the Environment + Energy Leader Awards program recognized CyrusOne with its Top Project of the Year Award in 2021.

“This was before my time at the organization, but when we were first building the campus, we met with Maricopa County [Arizona] and explained the size of the campus and what some of the requirements would be,” Myers said. “They said we could have all the power we wanted, but ‘just don’t use our water.’ That really cemented what we were going to use as a design going forward, that waterless cooling or water consumption-free cooling was the answer in Chandler. And it became our answer across most markets where we operate.”

And CyrusOne does operate in some high water-stress areas.

“But anywhere that’s high water-risk is where we’re really focused on not just minimizing our use, but also offsetting any of our use,” Myers continued. “We look at water consuming-free technology as not just good for our impact to the environment, but from a risk resilience perspective. We’ve seen lots of folks adopt the same strategy. It’s definitely gaining a lot more momentum, but I don’t think it’s a common approach quite yet.”

To wrap up, Auzonne asked Myers how CyrusOne’s water strategies align with other sustainability goals.

“From a sustainability perspective, most of the focus is and will continue to be on climate change,” Myers said. “Think about climate change as two sides of the same coin. On one hand, you have your impact to the environment, which starts with your greenhouse gas production. And there’s lots of work we’re all doing around minimizing or eliminating our greenhouse gas footprint.”

Water consumption is the second biggest topic as it applies to data center sustainability, he continued.

“We consider what this will look like in 10 years,” he said. “The expectation is many of us will be at zero in terms of climate impact in terms of greenhouse gas on start of production. So, we fully expect water will become the next main issue and that really aligns well with the future of sustainability.”

The second side of the climate-change coin is resilience.

“Consider the Southwest of the U.S. – we keep getting a grimmer picture painted of water availability, all-time lows in lake levels and droughts,” Myers said. “We expect to see more challenges to the ability to get adequate water supply to continue to cool data centers. We also fully expect our technology adoption will be a key differentiator for us from a risk resilience perspective and that we’re ideally situated, at least from a water drought perspective, to maintain operations and have that minimally impact us.”