Veolia Water Technologies & Solutions

Water source planning for data centers: 3 steps to ensure success now and in the future

David Kirkland
| January 5, 2022 |
Water Reuse

Data centers are in high demand. The rise of remote work and online meetings, the increased use of video streaming sites and online gaming platforms, and the vast amounts of data generated from emerging technologies like 5G, have all created increased demand for computing power generated by data centers around the world.

As a result, the development of new data centers or the expansion of existing ones has accelerated dramatically over the past few years to meet the demands of the new data-intensive digital world. In fact, the number of hyperscale data centers has doubled over the past five years.

So why is Veolia writing about data center expansion and growth? The answer is simple: Water is one of the most popular ways to cool data centers, and the availability and quality of water can have major impacts on a data center’s operational costs, overall efficiency, and uptime.

Traditionally, data centers have relied on potable municipal water supplies for cooling purposes. However, this explosion in data center development and expansion comes during a time of increasing water scarcity. What happens if these municipal sources become overly stressed due to sustained population growth or water scarcity, and can’t support a new or expanded data center?

Luckily, data center owners can easily side-step these issues before they happen by following the steps below.

Evaluate all water sources at the onset of site planning

Putting all your eggs in one basket rarely works out. It’s no different when it comes to water sources.

Though it’s often overlooked in the early stages of site planning, characterizing available water sources should be one of the first steps taken. Be sure to evaluate every possible water source to determine which one provides the best quality for optimal operational efficiency. Too often, operators will only analyze the most obvious or available water source without considering other options.

For example, a data center developer was considering building on a parcel of land and asked us to analyze the groundwater before construction. The characterization revealed a very challenging composition of water that would only yield three cycles of concentration even with extensive water treatment chemistry, resulting in considerably higher operational costs and water use. These early findings enabled the developer to identify an alternate site with significantly better water quality.

What’s worse is not characterizing water sources at all. While many data centers draw from local potable water sources, it’s important to remember that not all potable water supplies are created equal. The quality and composition of water vary from place to place, and if you end up using a lower quality potable water source, your data center could experience added costs to treat the water and to maintain five 9s uptime. Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of for a data center owner to not realize there are issues with the water source until their water treatment costs increase substantially.

Consider current and future water needs early in the planning phase

Another key to success is considering both your current and future water needs during these early phases of initial site planning. Are there any plans for potential future expansions, and if so, how will your water needs change as a result? By engaging with the process early, it can be determined if the quality of water supplied to the site location will allow for full build-out of a campus long-term.

Alternatively, have you considered how other industrial sites in the area may impact your future water supply? For example, if there are multiple data centers operating in your area, the combined demand of those sites can stress the existing infrastructure of the municipality beyond its current design, forcing you to find alternative or additional water sources in the future.

If you’re building a new data center or thinking of expanding an existing facility, it’s critical that you consider your long-term water needs at the outset and evaluate alternative sources of water as early as possible to preserve flexibility in the future.

Enlist specialized expertise

Every water challenge can be solved, but some are easier than others. Water source planning for data centers is one of those challenges that can be more complex. Considering that water can significantly impact data centers’ uptime, efficiency, and operating costs, data center owners should look to enlist experts to help with water source planning.

Finding a third-party partner who knows the water landscape, can identify and solve problems early on, and has the foresight and expertise to ensure you have access to quality water sources throughout your data center’s lifecycle will pay dividends in the future.

Learn more on how Veolia can help support your data center water needs throughout every step of the life cycle, from development through operational support, and help overcome challenges in water operations here.

About the Author

David Kirkland

North America Director, Data Center Solutions

David has been in the water treatment industry going back to 1995 where he began his career with Betz Entec as an Account Manager. Since that time he has held various roles in the company including leading a team in the Southeast US, then moving on to manage our efforts with the Veolia distribution network. Because of his engagement directly with our data center customers, David has been tasked with bringing the Veolia solutions to that market and making sure we are developing new solutions for a rapidly developing industry segment.

David continues to engage the industry by being actively involved in multiple trade organizations such as Open Compute Project, 7x24 Exchange International, and Data Center World, just to name a few. This engagement has offered an opportunity to take his 27 years of industrial water treatment experience, with a focus on cooling, influent and wastewater treatment, and pretreatment equipment such as reverse osmosis (RO) and softeners, to work with the end users and Veolia research teams to develop the newest technologies for the market place.

David is driven by the satisfaction of delivering value to customers, both in program performance and cost improvements, through the implementation of mutually beneficial projects.