Can The Smallest Data Centers be Sustainable?

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Sustainability is on the radar for data center designers, builders, and operators. 

As regulators and citizens are becoming anxious at the demands data centers place on scarce water resources, power generation, and power distribution, all of us in the industry are rethinking how we build and operate our data centers. Whether by committing to zero water consumption, carbon neutrality, or simply driving down PUE, we’re putting time, money, and effort into sustainability improvements.

However…could these shifts put industry sustainability efforts at risk?

The first of these is the rise of smaller data centers.

We’ve all heard about 100MW, 250MW, even 500MW data centers in the planning and construction stages, and of course those data centers get all the press. However, for every huge data center, there are dozens of smaller data centers being built. Due to challenges with power distribution, site selection, and supply chain gaps, we’re already seeing more and more 1MW-5MW data centers designed and delivered than ever before.

The second shift is the rise of distributed computing.

Distributed computing and edge computing, both of which are designed to put some workloads, with demanding compute, storage, and networking, as close to the end user as possible, are becoming more and more common. Corporate data center trends show that by 2025, 75% of data creation and processing will be outside the range of traditional and cloud data centers. Whether that’s due to a need to solve latency issues, a need for greater resilience, proliferation of IoT infrastructure, or a need for a compute mesh spread over multiple locations to handle analytics, organizations increasingly see the need to roll out dozens or hundreds of small, distributed computing nodes or racks or containers.

The third shift is the move toward second-tier and third-tier cities. We’re already seeing massive growth to builds in those locations to do a better job of accommodating where data is generated and where data is consumed. Many of those builds will be small builds in order to get new capacity in those markets online as quickly as possible.

These three trends don’t seem problematic on the surface. However, where sustainability is concerned, there’s a critical question:

Can smaller data centers, distributed micro-data centers, and edge computing nodes be as efficient as large data centers?

After all, it seems logical that spreading workloads across thousands of micro-data centers and edge computing nodes will work against the demands for a more sustainable industry. 

Will these shifts impede industry efforts around sustainability?

Of course, it seems logical that organizations gain sustainability efficiencies at scale. But fortunately, we’ve seen certain efficiencies emerge because of the rise of smaller data centers and distributed computing.


  1. Data movement costs money, and keeping information locally reduces the power costs of switching from an endpoint to a cloud and back again. The content delivery companies learned that several years ago.
  2. When you get to 1-10MW data centers, you can often get away with more free cooling. When you have 50MW of power consumption, you almost absolutely need active cooling — but smaller density data centers are more easily cooled with free air cooling. 
  3. Tiny deployments, like edge nodes, can often get away with completely passive cooling. 
  4. Some new technologies, including immersion cooling and innovations like the Nautilus approach, can deliver hyperscale-like PUE levels in small data centers and tiny enclosures.
  5. Smaller data centers can be used to provide heat. There’s even a company in the UK that is installing servers in homes and using the heat to heat hot water for human use!

So there are proven ways to maximize the energy and water utilization efficiency of smaller data centers and edge nodes.

In conclusion, we don’t see that the shift toward smaller data centers has to impede sustainability. In reality, we see that small nodes and data centers can be just as sustainable as hyperscale data centers. We’re excited about leading the charge toward low PUE and zero water consumption in small and large data centers around the world.

To learn more about how Nautilus delivered a highly sustainable 7MW data center in Stockton, California, tap here.

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Chad Romine

Chad Romine has over two decades of experience in technical and strategic business development. As Vice President of Business Development for Nautilus Data Technologies, Mr. Romine brings global connectivity to some of the most prominent global influencers in technology. Mr. Romine has led startups and under-performing companies to successful maturity built largely upon solid partnerships. Proven results in negotiating mutually beneficial strategic alliances and joint ventures. Outside of work, Chad has invested time fundraising for the American Cancer Society. Mr. Romine recently helped secure funding and led marketing for the completion of a new private University.

Ashley Sturm

Ashley Sturm is a marketing and strategy leader with more than 15 years of experience developing strategic marketing initiatives to increase brand affinity, shape the customer experience, and grow market share. As the Vice President of Marketing at Nautilus Data Technologies, Ashley is responsible for all global marketing initiatives; she integrates the corporate strategy, marketing, branding, and customer experience to best serve clients and produce real business results. Before joining Nautilus Data Technologies, she served as the Senior Director of Marketing Brand and Content for NTT Global Data Centers Americas, spearheading marketing efforts to open two out of six data center campuses. Prior to NTT, Ashley led global marketing through the startup of Vertiv’s Global Data Center Solutions business unit, where she developed the unit’s foundational messaging and established global and regional marketing teams. Ashley’s career experience includes extensive work with the US Navy through the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness as well as broadcast journalism. Ashley earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in converged media from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

Paul Royere

Paul Royere is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Nautilus Data Technologies. For more than twenty years, he has specialized in finance and administration leadership for emerging technology companies, guiding them through high growth commercialization. In addition to senior team roles guiding strategic business operations, Mr. Royere has directed cross-functional teams in implementing business support systems, designing and measuring business plan performance, leading pre/post-merger activities, and delivering requisite corporate, tax and audit compliance.

While at 365 Data Centers, Mr. Royere served as Vice President of Finance leading a multi-discipline restructuring in preparation for the successful sale of seventeen data centers. As Vice President and Corporate Controller at Reliance Globalcom, Royere led the finance and business support teams to and through the conversion from a privately held company to a subsidiary of an international public conglomerate.

Arnold Magcale

Arnold Magcale is founder and Chief Technology Officer of Nautilus Data Technologies. As a recognized leader and respected visionary in the technology industry, he specializes in data center infrastructure, high-availability networks, cloud design, and Software as a Service (SaaS) Technology.

While serving on the management team of Exodus Communications, he launched one of Silicon Valley’s first data centers. Mr. Magcale’s background includes executive positions at Motorola Mobility, where his team deployed the first global Droid devices, and LinkSource Technologies and The Quantum Capital Fund, serving as Chief Technology Officer. He was an early adopter and implementer of Cloud Computing and a member of the team at Danger, Inc., acquired by Microsoft.

Mr. Magcale had a distinguished ten year career in the United States Navy Special Forces. His military and maritime expertise provided the foundation for inventing the world’s first commercial waterborne data center.

Patrick Quirk

Patrick Quirk is a business and technology executive who specializes in operations management, strategic partnerships, and technology leadership in data center, telecommunications, software, and semiconductor markets. Prior to joining Nautilus, he spent the past year working with small businesses and non-profits on survival and growth strategies in addition to PE advisory roles for critical infrastructure acquisitions. Quirk was the President of Avocent Corp, a subsidiary of Vertiv, the Vice President and General Manager for the IT Systems business, and the VP/GM of Converged Systems at Emerson Network Power, providing data center management infrastructure for data center IT, power, and thermal management products. He has held numerous global leadership roles in startups and large multinational companies including LSI and Motorola in the networking and semiconductor markets.

Rob Pfleging

Most recently, Rob was the Senior Vice President of Global Solutions at Vertiv Co, formerly Emerson Network Power. Vertiv Co is an international company that designs, develops and maintains critical infrastructures that run vital applications in data centers, communication networks and commercial and industrial facilities. Rob was responsible for the global solutions line of business at ​​Vertiv, which serves the Americas, Europe and Asia. Prior to Vertiv, Rob was the Vice President of Expansion and Innovation, Datacenter Engineering at CenturyLink, where he was responsible for 55 datacenters across North America, Europe and Asia. Before working for CenturyLink, Rob was the Executive Director of Computer/Data Center Operations at Mercy, where he led datacenter engineering and operations, desktop field services, call center services, and asset management and logistics for more than 40 hospitals. Before fulfilling this mission at Mercy, Rob held various engineering management and sales positions at Schneider Electric. Rob Pfleging additionally served for 6 years in the United States Marine Corps.

James Connaughton

James Connaughton is a globally distinguished energy, environment, technology expert, as both corporate leader and White House policymaker. Mr. Connaughton is the CEO of Nautilus Data Technologies, a high-performance, ultra-efficient, and sustainable data center infrastructure company powered by its proprietary water-cooling system. Before joining Nautilus Data Technologies, he served as Executive Vice President of, a leading enterprise AI software provider for accelerating digital transformation.

From 2009-2013, Mr. Connaughton was Executive Vice President and a member of the Management Committee of Exelon and Constellation Energy, two of America’s cleanest, competitive suppliers of electricity, natural gas, and energy services. In 2001, Mr. Connaughton was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate to serve as Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He served as President George W. Bush’s senior advisor on energy, environment, and natural resources, and as Director of the White House Office of Environmental Policy. During his eight-year service, Mr. Connaughton worked closely with the President, the Cabinet, and the Congress to develop and implement energy, environment, natural resource, and climate change policies. An avid ocean conservationist, Mr. Connaughton helped establish four of the largest and most ecologically diverse marine resource conservation areas in the world.

Mr. Connaughton is a member of the Advisory Board of the ClearPath Foundation and serves as an Advisor to X (Google’s Moonshot Factory) and Shine Technologies, a medical and commercial isotope company. He is also a member of the Board of Directors at the Resources for the Future and a member of the Advisory Boards at Yale’s Center on Environmental Law and Policy and Columbia’s Global Center on Energy Policy.