Jon Pettitt, Chief Executive Officer of Excool group of companies, a seasoned expert in data centre design and cooling, delves into the pivotal trends shaping the data centre industry, sheds light on the role of Excool’s innovations in ensuring efficient cooling of data centre operations and underscores the significance of Singapore’s Data Centre World event.
Tell us about the trajectory of your career up to this point. Have there been pivotal moments that stand out, influencing the course of your journey and contributing to who you are?
I am a Mechanical Engineer by trade. In the early stages of my career, during the 1990s, I found myself at York International, where I was engaged in the design and oversight of substantial chiller installations. This period coincided with the emergence of data centres as a significant industry, capturing my interest due to the unique challenges they posed.
At that time, we were tasked with air-conditioning vast buildings that housed nothing but servers. The focus was on maintaining extremely low temperatures within these spaces, around 18 degrees centigrade. It dawned on me then that the energy requirements for these structures would be monumental, and this sparked my curiosity about finding innovative cooling solutions that wouldn’t rely on energy-hungry equipment HVAC systems.
This marked a pivotal juncture for the industry. Instead of viewing data centres through the lens of traditional commercial buildings, there was a paradigm shift toward understanding data centres in terms of their core function. My transition from York to Munters was marked by a commitment to education, advocating for energy efficiency and exploring unconventional cooling approaches that aligned with ASHRAE TC 9.9 guidelines, which endorsed higher operating temperatures for data centres.
Now, with over two decades immersed in the data centre industry, my journey has led me to Excool, where I currently serve as CEO. Despite the passage of time, my fascination with this industry has not waned; it remains as strong as ever.
Why are events paramount within the data centre industry and what role do they play in the advancement of data centre innovation?
Events and exhibitions hold a significant place in the data centre industry’s landscape. Personally, I established a principle that whenever our company participated in exhibitions, it was crucial to incorporate an educational presentation. Our intention extended beyond merely spotlighting our product technology; it encompassed the essential message of energy efficiency’s paramount role within data centres. This commitment led me to traverse the globe, engaging in exhibitions for over a decade.
There was a phase during which we scaled back our involvement in industry events due to escalating costs. Our participation dwindled from 12 events annually to a focus on four key events. However, I’m pleased to note that costs have since stabilised, and at Excool, we actively engage in more than 10 events each year worldwide. My approach remains steadfast – seeking a platform to disseminate insights, not solely centred around Excool’s accomplishments, but spanning broader subjects such as data centre cooling, infrastructure and energy management.
Given the industry’s rapid pace, a constant state of vigilance is essential and innovation is paramount. The need to think progressively and adapt persistently is imperative. Industry events provide the ideal stage for showcasing both the industry’s evolution and its unchanging aspects, serving as a reminder to challenge conventional norms and envision beyond the status quo.
What is the most efficient cooling system for a data centre and what are the main components every data centre infrastructure should have?
Addressing the question of optimal data centre cooling is indeed tricky, with solutions varying according to factors like geographical location, facility type (hyper-scale or colocation) and specific client requirements. To illustrate, the cooling demands and challenges in Oslo would starkly contrast those of an organisation situated in Singapore. With over a decade of involvement in data centre cooling, I’ve witnessed the evolution firsthand.
In the past, Indirect Evaporative Cooling demanded significant water consumption, presenting a substantial challenge. However, today’s advancements and reimagined designs have led to highly efficient utilisation, requiring only a fraction of the previous water volume. We’ve essentially transitioned from using what I describe as a swimming pool’s worth of water to mere buckets, while maintaining, if not surpassing, comparable efficiency levels.
Consideration for water-scarce regions has prompted the need for reliability through non-water-dependent alternatives. Reliability, therefore, emerges as a pivotal factor in every data centre’s infrastructure planning. This highlights the lack of a one-size-fits-all solution for diverse organisations.
In the past, many hyperscale facilities employed direct evaporative cooling systems due to their energy efficiency. However, this approach introduced challenges like outside air infiltration, resulting in concerns over humidity and external contaminants. The continually evolving technology landscape, mirroring changing densities, underscores the essential requirement for adaptive cooling strategies at each stage of a data centre’s lifecycle.
What are the key trends in the data centre industry and how does that shape Excool’s current innovation strategy?
To begin, a notable trend in the industry has been the need for a significant reduction in water consumption. As a response to the critical concern of water scarcity, our transition from the previous model to Excool Zero has been pivotal. The Excool Zero advanced indirect evaporative solution employs a mere fraction of water while maintaining equivalent efficiency levels. The innovation lies in the utilisation of outdoor air to indirectly cool indoor air through a specially crafted unique composite plastic heat exchanger.
The second prevailing trend we’ve observed involves a marked reduction in physical footprint of plant room space. To overcome this challenge the dimensions of our data centre cooling solution have been substantially diminished by approximately 60%. This reduction empowers data centre owners and operators to optimise space utilisation for accommodating additional racks and processes. Given the escalating costs of land and the scarcity of options in major urban centres, multi-level data centres have gained prominence. The redesigned Excool Zero now accommodates the use in these multi-level environments, maintaining a high level of efficiency.
As data centre locations veer towards greater remoteness, we introduced Excool Flex – a water-free and efficient system. This caters to scenarios where water resources are limited or absent. This innovation proves especially relevant for data centres in regions with constrained water supplies, affirming their commitment to responsible water consumption and positive relationships with their host cities.
Our overarching strategy for all Excool solutions centres on reducing the reliance on highly specialised technicians and intricate construction processes, known for their associated expenses.
We’ve transitioned from an on station-type construction approach to a streamlined one. For instance, the new Excool Zero model enables us to construct between 15-20 units per week, a substantial increase from the prior rate of around 2.5 per week. This heightened supply chain efficiency not only simplifies design and scalability but also underscores our dedication to cost reduction without compromising quality.
The principles we uphold are consistently embodied by our research and design teams, ensuring that our products remain at the forefront of innovation. Continual assessment and refinement in these aspects drive the ongoing evolution of data centre cooling architecture.
Tell us about the Excool Advanced Data Centre Cooling system and how effective it is?
Absolutely, the Excool Zero, our cutting-edge indirect evaporative cooling solution, distinguishes itself through a uniquely refined sequence of operations, setting it apart from traditional systems of its kind. Our unwavering commitment to innovation led us to rigorously test and refine the system’s operations over thousands of hours in our lab, resulting in exceptional efficiency gains.
What truly sets our unit apart is the advanced control technology that closely monitors outdoor air temperatures and power requirements. This intelligent system finely balances key components like fans, heat exchangers, the adiabatic system and the DX system. These dynamic adjustments ensure an optimal sequence of operations, culminating in exceptional performance outcomes.
On the note of innovation, we’ve recently unveiled the Excool Flex – a groundbreaking split system that stands as an utterly water-free solution. This efficient approach to cooling not only achieves impressively low pPUEs but also showcases adaptability through its modular design, available in 400kW, 600kW or 800kW configurations. Moreover, the system incorporates essential features such as a built-in UPS, battery, water tank for operation during power loss and the use of low GWP refrigerant compressors. This remarkable combination of features exemplifies our unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of energy-efficient cooling solutions.
Excool Dry and Excool Flex are two of your most significant innovations to be released this year. What should the data centre industry expect with these innovations?
Certainly, the Excool Dry stands as a waterless iteration of our Excool Zero model. It takes the form of an indirect dry packaged system, characterised by extended condenser coils that amplify the surface area for heat rejection. This design achieves exceptional efficiency while simplifying the installation process considerably.
On the other hand, the Excool Flex presents an innovative split system. Operating as an indirect cooling loop with a contained cooling wall, this design integrates a sequence of internal fans, filters and a chilled water coil. Within the indoor unit, provisions like a buffer tank and UPS systems ensure operational continuity during power interruptions.
Ease of maintenance has also been a paramount consideration. The design features concealed airflow, eliminating the need for a mechanical corridor as a return airpath. This thoughtful design eliminates concerns about the cleanliness of mechanical corridors.
What truly sets our offerings apart is the emphasis on flexibility and convenience. For instance, the Excool Flex is equipped with flexible pipes linking the two units, streamlining installation and reducing associated costs. Furthermore, we’re actively developing production lines for the Excool Flex, both in the UK and the US. This strategic expansion in production capabilities will not only enhance our output but also elevate the accessibility and quantity of units we can offer to the market.
As a leading digital infrastructure event designed for data centre professionals, technology business leaders and innovators, what should we expect at Data Centre World 2023 and how will that shape the future of the industry?
The data centre industry in the Asia Pacific region is experiencing a remarkable pace of growth, outpacing other global regions in a year-on-year percentage increase. It’s within this dynamic environment that we anticipate the emergence of new technology and innovation. However, it’s important to acknowledge that this region also presents unique challenges. Factors such as high ambient temperatures, elevated humidity levels and the costliness of land pose significant obstacles. Addressing these challenges demands cooling solutions that are tailored to these specific conditions.
Having closely followed the industry’s evolution in this region, I’ve actively participated in Data Centre World Singapore for the past eight years. What’s notable is the event’s consistent expansion year after year. The sheer volume of attendees is truly impressive, making our investment in marketing well worthwhile. This event has become an essential platform for connecting with industry peers, sharing insights and showcasing our solutions in a rapidly growing market.
What are your predictions for the data centre industry in 2024 and beyond?
I encountered a similar question during a panel discussion I participated in recently while in Washington. The panel’s moderator raised a question about the prevailing rack densities, which presently average around 8-9kW, and then inquired about our projections for rack densities in the next five years.
In that discussion, four out of five panellists, including myself, expressed the view that the average rack density would likely remain around eight kilowatts per rack. This perspective is rooted in the idea that the current hype around exponentially increasing rack densities doesn’t seem to align with the available data. Drawing from my two decades of experience in this industry, I’ve observed that specific metrics have remained relatively constant. While it’s certain that rack densities will witness an increase, particularly with the advent of AI applications, I remain cautious about the extreme numbers forecasted by certain predictions.
Anticipating the future, we are poised to witness remarkable transformations in the data centre landscape. The rise of AI, for instance, is set to drive a surge in the demand for data centres, marking an exciting trajectory. Additionally, other sectors such as liquid cooling, cloud computing and crypto mining, will evolve alongside the growth of new technologies, paving the way for intriguing developments in the industry.Click below to share this article