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O2 cools down data centres to save energy as 4G and 5G hot up

O2 cools down data centres to save energy as 4G and 5G hot up

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As the world heats up, data centre facilities must discover smarter ways to cool down. Jorge Ribeiro Rousse, Director of Service Platform Strategy and Engineering, Virgin Media O2, discusses how it implemented EkkoSense’s software technology to monitor and control temperatures at its mobile network site in order to keep its mobile network running, delivering cooling optimisation right across its estate.

As lockdown eases and mobile data use sees 4G and 5G consumption hot up to new records, O2 is rolling out brand new smart cooling technology to better control the temperature at its data centres and boost the efficiency of its network – delivering energy savings equivalent to one million kilograms of CO2 year on year.

In the last 12 months, O2 has carried record levels of data – up 89% from the pre-pandemic average in 2019. As the UK emerges from COVID-19 restrictions, our appetite for mobile data is expected to continue growing (with the O2 network carrying an average 55% more peak hour data throughput in the first week of May than it did in the same week in 2020) – putting pressure on data centres and creating carbon emissions from ‘hot’ equipment that needs cooling.

To help build a greener network, O2 is radically overhauling its data centres and core network sites with brand new, energy-efficient cooling equipment to regulate temperatures at the sites that keep its mobile network running. The new equipment uses the natural cold air outside to help cool data equipment when it needs it – rather than relying solely on traditional electric-powered air conditioning. Using fresh air also reduces O2’s reliance on polluting refrigerant gases.

O2 has also become the first major mobile network operator to rollout new management software from EkkoSense across its entire estate. The software uses smart sensors fitted to data centre equipment to monitor exactly how much cooling each site needs at any one time, and report back on how to optimise cooling as demand changes. This not only helps make sure each site operates as efficiently as possible, it also helps identify any issues and prevents overcooling or overheating. The new EkkoSense software is expected to deliver energy savings equivalent to one million kilograms of CO2 year-on-year.

O2 has already upgraded around 70% of its core network sites with the brand new equipment and EkkoSense data centre optimisation software, delivering an energy saving of between 15% and 20% per site – equivalent to 678,000 kilograms of CO2 in its first pro-rata year of use.

Tracey Herald, Head of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at O2, said: “Our number one priority is keeping customers connected, but that cannot be at the expense of the environment. Data centre cooling is a great example: the more data we use, the hotter the centres can become. Historically, networks have relied on air con, but the UK has plenty of fresh, cold air that does the same job – so we’re getting rid of old kit and using energy in a smarter way. Investing in upgrading our network will help us hit our efficiency targets as we head towards net zero by 2025 – without compromising on the service we provide.”

Dean Boyle, CEO at EkkoSense, said: “We’re delighted that O2 chose EkkoSense to help it cool its data centres more efficiently and deliver energy savings at a time when demands on its critical facilities have never been so intense. Our software’s ability to capture and analyse O2’s critical power, space and cooling information in real-time gives its data centre team access to much more powerful optimisation capabilities, as it progresses towards net zero.”

Turning masts on snooze mode and running on renewables – A greener network

O2 is investing more than ever in its network to improve coverage and experience for all its customers across the UK, matching growing demand with its industry-leading green ambitions. Introducing various energy-efficiency enhancements (such as free air-cooling and advanced automation, that ‘switches off’ technology on its networks when demand is low) is one of the reasons O2’s network is now around 82% more energy efficient than it was in 2015.

O2’s operations are powered by 100% renewable electricity wherever O2 directly controls the bill. After starting its renewable energy procurement in 2008, the operator has since invested approximately £400 million in renewable energy supply and is now going even further, working with landlords to encourage the switch to renewables on third-party sites where O2 doesn’t control the energy bill. Currently, 70% of O2’s total estate is powered on renewable energy sources.

Net zero and O2’s commitment to a greener future

In 2020, O2 became the only mobile network operator to commit to net zero by 2025, while working with supply chain partners to reduce emissions by 30% in the next five years. It has already made significant progress against its net zero goals, including:

  • Reducing carbon emissions in its operations by 29% since 2015
  • Achieving a 35% carbon reduction in emissions in its supply chain since 2016 – already exceeding the supply chain target

Jorge Ribeiro Rousse, Director of Service Platform Strategy and Engineering, Virgin Media O2, discusses the company’s work with EkkoSense and the business benefits the solution has provided.

Can you tell us about your role and the scope of your responsibility?

As Director of Service Platform Strategy and Engineering, I am responsible for our core network, including all aspects of planning and design, transformation and evolution to a new 5G core.

How does cooling technology enable improved temperature control as well as providing network efficiencies?

Cooling technology is pivotal to the effective operation of our data centres and core network sites. In fact, it’s the third most important factor behind IT and power. Without the correct cooling configuration, we would need to restrict the operating limits for our data centres – which can add thermal risk, increasing the likelihood of service outages.

The new EkkoSense software uses smart sensors fitted to our data centre equipment to monitor exactly how much cooling each site needs at any one time, and report back on how to optimise cooling as demand changes. Meeting our exact cooling demands means our network is using energy in a more efficient way.

What was the driving factor behind O2’s decision to overhaul its data centres and core network sites with cooling equipment?

Keeping customers connected is our number one priority, but that cannot be at the expense of the environment. Data centre cooling is a prime example: as we carry more data, we know we need to evolve our network to use energy in a smarter way – and this was the driving factor behind the upgrade. Investing in upgrading our network not only allows us to meet customer demand, it will also help us hit our efficiency targets – as we head towards net zero by 2025.

Why did you decide to work with EkkoSense on this occasion?

We looked at several different toolsets in the marketplace but chose EkkoSense because its team offered us the flexibility to work together with it to develop a product that was tailored to our needs. The result is a powerful monitoring, 3D visualisation and analytics platform that tracks our data centre estate cooling infrastructure performance in real time and enables us to use only the energy we need to when meeting our cooling requirements. It’s also intuitive and easy for our operations team to use.

How important is this move for the smooth running of O2’s mobile network? 

Demand for data on our network continues to grow year on year, so upgrading our data centres and core network sites is crucial. We continuously invest in updating the facilities that host our network; so that rather than adding more and more kit, we are reviewing exactly what we need to keep meeting customer demand while still minimising our energy usage. The move to introduce EkkoSense has not only helped us make sure each site operates as efficiently as possible, it also helps identify any issues and prevents overcooling or overheating – so we can keep our network running seamlessly in line with customer demand.

How beneficial has EkkoSense’s smart sensor software been in monitoring how much cooling is required at each site at any one time?

Very beneficial. The software provides a real-time 3D model of each unique data hall and uses Machine Learning to understand the cooling distribution within the space. This helps us identify and prevent hot and cold spots within the facility, matching exact cooling demand with our energy inputs. It also provides reassurance that the cooling system at each of our sites is operating in the most efficient way.

How will your investment in this technology help to create future efficiencies for O2?

The initial efficiencies this tech provides us are through power reduction and site optimisation. Any time we reduce energy use at our network sites, it has a direct impact on our energy efficiency – which means we consume less energy for each unit of data that our network transmits. The new EkkoSense software is expected to deliver energy savings equivalent to one million kilograms of CO2 year-on-year.

There may also be further efficiencies across the technical estate as we roll the technology out. For example, the software has provided operational benefits through early visibility of potential thermal anomalies. We are also introducing Cold Aisle Containment, which – working alongside the EkkoSense software – will allow us to drive further efficiencies in the future.

What powerful optimisation capabilities has this technology enabled for your data centre team?

Introducing the new technology and working closely with the EkkoSense team has enabled us to deliver cooling optimisation right across our estate – saving energy and minimising thermal risk. This has, in turn, allowed the ‘release’ of critical capacity on site.

Ongoing thermal monitoring will also allow our dedicated data centre teams to respond to any issues quicker and more effectively, with insight to help prevent similar issues occurring in the future.

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