Data centers facing existential crisis

Drought conditions pose major risk to properties

(Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty)
(Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty)

Most techies live in fear of spilling water on their devices. Data center owners, however, live in fear of not having enough water to cool down their commercial properties.

Worsening drought conditions across the nation could have an outsized impact on data centers, CNBC reported. Water is frequently used to cool data centers, which generate an enormous amount of heat because of the power needed to generate servers.

Researchers at Virginia Tech estimated the average data center uses 300,000 gallons of water a day to keep cool, roughly equivalent to water use in 100,000 homes. As drought conditions spread, the ability to keep data centers cool — and operational — will dry up.

“There is, without a doubt, risk if you’re dependent on water,” CyrusOne executive Kyle Myers told the publication. “These data centers are set up to operate 20 years, so what is it going to look like in 2040 here, right?”

Some landlords are seeking alternatives to traditional cooling methods to cut down on water consumption. At its Los Lunas data center, Meta piloted reducing relative humidity from 20 percent to 13 percent, eventually rolling it out across its portfolio of data centers; the company’s overall water consumption is still a rising tide, though.

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Meta is one of several companies vowing to be “water positive” by the end of the decade, meaning restoring more water than it consumes. Microsoft is another company with that goal.

“The good news is we’ve been investing for years in ongoing innovation in this space so that fundamentally we can recycle almost all of the water we use in our data centers,” Microsoft president Brad Smith told CNBC.

A shift in water consumption can’t come soon enough for data centers, which were one of the hottest property types during the first stretch of the pandemic.

More than half of the country is mired in drought conditions, according to U.S. Drought Monitor. Drought conditions are present in more than 60 percent of the continental U.S., up a whopping 9 percent from only a month ago. Drought conditions are particularly severe in the West and Midwest.

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— Holden Walter-Warner

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