AI and sustainability - challenges or opportunities for the data centre?

The opening of Legrand’s latest Experience Center in Reading, UK, last year is just one of many technology and corporate strategy developments focused on optimizing the company’s data center products and services portfolio, as well as the overall customer experience. Paul Roberts, Product Specialist and MTDC Account Manager for Legrand Data Center Solutions, talks to DCS.

The purpose of the Experience Center is to showcase the complete range of products that fall within the scope of the Legrand Data Center Solutions Portfolio. This incorporates many of Legrand’s already well-established brands into a complete, joined-up solution that can be readily applied to any commercial or enterprise data center. Hence, this is an opportunity for partners, industry leaders and experts and end users to experience what the Legrand Data Center Solution looks and feels like.

Paul Roberts explains: “The Experience Center is also a place where we share ideas, strategies, concepts, and educate each other in an ever changing and constantly evolving industry. We like to share our own ideas, but we can only achieve the product innovation that we showcase through listening to our peers and, most importantly, our customers.”

So, the Experience Center not only acts as a Legrand Data Center Solutions portfolio showcase, but it also provides visitors with an opportunity to share their views and thoughts and ultimately contribute to the company’s ongoing innovation process.

The main focus of Legrand Data Center Solutions is to distribute the power through the building, from grey space, into the white space and finally to the equipment, in the most efficient way possible whilst minimizing power loss at every stage. Paul emphasizes that ‘it is important to note we also distribute the data through the same stages from POP room through to the IT equipment’.

As demonstrated at the Experience Center, Legrand achieves this by providing energy efficient solutions throughout the power supply chain and indirectly through energy efficient passive and active cooling technologies.

Paul takes up the story: “We endeavour to minimize power loss throughout this journey, but the IT equipment itself will of course be generating heat directly proportional with the amount of kW’s of power it uses, and this heat must be rejected, which inevitably involves additional power consumption, and from a PUE perspective this should be considered as power lost.

“This happens within the white space and so that’s where we can achieve the greatest levels of efficiency through passive cooling solutions such as our air optimization kits, aisle containment and energy efficient active cooling solutions like the innovative Coldlogik range of products from USystems, with the ultimate objective of minimizing the power required to reject the heat generated by the IT equipment.”

AI on the horizon

With the impending AI explosion, there are some significant challenges facing Legrand’s customers from a power and efficiency perspective.
As Jensen Huang, the Co-Founder and President of NVIDIA, puts it, the amount of power required by data centers to support the AI boom “is an issue for the world.”

Paul comments: “I recently attended an AI seminar hosted by a leading co-location retailer whose chairman suggested that AI, with its high-density power and cooling demands, will eventually drive the industry towards a crisis point, as we struggle to support this technology from existing power budgets.

“For instance, Dublin has no more power for new data center deployments and Amsterdam has very strict guidelines around energy efficiency.

“So, the pressure to find further capacity out of the existing power budgets will become more intense if we are to accommodate this emerging technology.”

Not surprisingly, Legrand is already focused on addressing the challenges arising from these new, AI-driven workloads. This means adding technology innovations to the company’s existing suite of data center solutions as well as working with customers to implement this technology.

Harnessing the AI boom

Legrand has the capability to deliver the power at the density required for AI applications. This includes solutions such as the Starline Track Busway and the new generation of intelligent rack PDUs – the Raritan PX4 PDU and the Server Technology PRO4X PDU.

The company also has the necessary expertise to understand and address the importance of optimizing both the space and airflow within the rack. Additionally, the issue of how to reject significant kW of heat generated by the IT equipment is addressed with Legrand’s highly efficient Coldlogik cooling solutions.

Paul comments: “We are already working with a number of customers in helping them deliver AI projects using our extensive solutions portfolio – helping them to harness the AI boom. One of these projects was recently referenced at the AI Safety Summit and was also featured within an accompanying BBC news item at the time.

Sustainability front and center

Alongside the impending AI challenge, Legrand continues to help its customers reduce their carbon footprint by providing innovative, energy efficient and sustainable solutions - a primary objective at the company and an important part of its Corporate Social Responsibility Program.

Probably the biggest challenge for the data center operators who are already on this path of improved energy efficiency is maintaining an upward trajectory of further improvement, with the ultimate goal of achieving Net Zero.

However, what is sometimes overlooked is not just the reduction in carbon emissions and operational expenditure, but the increase in the kW power capacity through reclaiming energy lost through inefficient cooling coupled with the increase in the cooling potential of the data center.

Paul explains: “Put it another way, a retail colocation provider, or a multi-tenant data center sells kW’s not space. In this scenario think of the energy provider or power station as the wholesaler and the colocation provider as the retailer. Imagine that the colocation provider is selling cans of kW’s and these are displayed on a shelf and let’s assume that the facilities kW budget is shared amongst six equally sized cans. If the facility has a PUE of 2.0 (I choose this value as this was originally considered to be average), then half of the stock on the shelves is effectively spoilt, whereas if the same facility improves its PUE to 1.2 then only one out of the six cans is spoilt.”

Such an improvement means the facility has more product to sell so can improve its revenue as well as its operational expenditure.

This reclaimed energy also goes at least some way to address the challenges that AI presents to the industry in terms of a dearth of power capacity.

Final thoughts

Legrand is committed to continuing to enhance its product offering both organically through investment in R&D - the PX4 PDU and PRO4X PDU being an excellent example of this - but also through best-in-class acquisitions.

Paul takes up the story: “I think we have already demonstrated that Legrand Data Center Solutions is AI ready, but we will be pushing this message further throughout 2024 with additional content.

“Our organization will further develop the customer experience with plans for more Experience Centers throughout Europe, including Germany, Czech Republic, Serbia, Poland, and Spain.

“This year you can access the complete Legrand Data Center Solutions range via a single website, bringing together all our brands into one location.”

We all have mixed thoughts about what the future holds, and how new technologies like AI will impact our lives. As another quote from the AI Safety Summit stated: “AI has the potential to transform and enhance human wellbeing, peace and prosperity”; but there also need to be the recognition that safeguards need to be built into its DNA. Some of these concerns will be around safety and security, others around its sustainability.

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