Groundbreaking Data Center Technology: The Case for Water-Cooled Data Center Design

Share This Post
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email
Everyone knows that data centers produce heat, lots of it, and without some technology to remove it, data centers can’t function. Imagine, for a moment, that all the conventional data center cooling technologies are reaching a point where they’re not smart, not suitable, and not sustainable. How would you cool your data centers?
 
The founders of Nautilus Data Technologies went on a journey to prove that there’s an answer to that question. This answer has incredible implications for data center density, longevity, and economics, as well as substantial social and environmental advantages. Over the past few years, we took our idea from the drawing board to a prototype. Last year, we launched our 7MW first data center in Stockton, California, which supports a range of production workloads for a collection of customers.
 
Before we take you through our journey, let’s set the stage.
 

The Problem with Traditional IT Cooling in Data Centers

Everyone knows that data centers have evolved from their beginnings as computer rooms and server closets to massive multi-megawatt facilities with thousands of servers and hundreds of racks. Most of today’s data centers still depend on air-conditioning. Data centers rely on these technologies to keep data center equipment running smoothly, whether it’s vapor-compression refrigeration (like your window A/C unit) or evaporative cooling (like an old-fashioned swamp cooler).
 
Here’s the thing though. These technologies come with fatal flaws — water and electricity consumption.
 
First, data center cooling consumes a ridiculous amount of water. It’s been reported that, in 2019, a single cloud provider requested over 2.3 BILLION gallons of water from municipal water supplies. All the major hyperscale cloud providers are working on initiatives to reduce their water consumption. However, it’s still a considerable problem that puts pressure on potable water supplies and costs data center providers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
 
To make matters worse, data center cooling also requires massive amounts of power. Cooling systems can consume half of a data center’s energy intake. That means that many data centers are purchasing 5, 10, or even 20 megawatts of power just to keep their servers cool. That’s both an intolerable expense and an intolerable pressure on electricity grids that need intensive improvements just to cope with the demands of inclement weather, as we’ve seen both in California and Texas over the past year.
 

Exploring the Alternatives

So conventional air conditioning uses too much water and too much electricity, or in other words, it’s not sustainable. What’s a data center provider to use instead?
 
Of course, there have always been alternatives to air conditioning. Liquid cooling is superior to air cooling — we use it in thousands of industrial processes, we use it in cars, we use it in power plants, and we’ve used it to cool computing since the mainframe era.
 
But the conventional wisdom is that liquid-cooled data centers are a niche technology suitable for high-performance computing, but perhaps not so crucial for the typical virtualized or cloud data center where vapor-compression refrigeration or evaporative cooling does the job.
 
The problem is, those technologies aren’t really doing the job and certainly won’t do the job going forward with higher costs and lower supplies of water and electricity.
 
The leading data center providers see a crisis point, where innovations in server design are putting additional pressure on data center cooling. With the latest multi-core CPUs and GPUs, today’s emerging servers consume more power than ever before.
 
It’s likely that some customers will see power consumption as much as 100kw / rack unit — which chilled air simply cannot cool. To quote Christian Belady, distinguished engineer and VP of Microsoft’s data center advanced development group, “Air cooling is not enough.” Those technologies cannot perform at the level today’s servers will demand.
 
Once we saw the sustainability and performance problems, we realized that the industry is at an inflection point where old methods won’t work.
 
So what did we do?
 

A Proven Technology, A New Approach

To move everyone past that inflection point, we took a proven technology and reinvented it. To put it simply, we took water cooling technologies from power plants and other industrial applications and designed them to work within a data center. Our technology uses pumps and water flow to cool data centers without the need for any mechanical chilling at all.
 
Sounds good, right? But of course, lab concepts often fail in real-world applications, and we wouldn’t be much of a data center provider if we didn’t build a data center.
 
So we built a floating 7MW data center. And we placed it by a brownfield location on an old military base in California. Today, it’s running production applications for a variety of customers.
 
Here’s the genius behind our water-cooled technology:
1. Instead of using treated municipal water, our cooling is done with a closed-loop on or near any body of water: saltwater or fresh, lake, river, or ocean. We consume zero gallons of water. That’s right. Zero.
2. We don’t use any evaporative or vapor-compression refrigeration. We cut electricity consumption from cooling by 70%, achieving 1.15 PUE every day of the year.
3. We can cool more data center equipment per rack than any air-cooled data center. Our data center in Stockton offers 5x higher power density per rack.
 

Discovering the Advantages through the Colocation Data Center

In doing all these things in Stockton, not only did we successfully prove that we could solve data center sustainability and performance problems, we uncovered a host of compelling benefits that you might not imagine.
 

Proving our technology can scale.

We built a 7-megawatt facility, but in doing so, proved that our technology is suitable for any data center, from 200 kilowatts to 200 megawatts. That means we can help organizations add ten racks of capacity closer to the customer for edge requirements, build the next generation of hyperscale data centers, and serve everything in-between.
 

Real estate efficiency.

We originally planned for a 6 MW deployment and discovered we could support 7 MW in the same footprint. Not only are we able to cool more capacity more efficiently, but we’re also able to offer greater capacity in a smaller footprint, with significant implications for data center placement and productivity.
 

Repurposing old sites and old equipment.

We built our data center at a commercial port on a brownfield site, leveraging old infrastructure and underutilized capacity that we put to productive use without affecting port operations. We refurbished an existing vessel to serve as our platform. We’ve given the Port of Stockton a new way to modernize what they do and a new revenue stream. On our side, the economics of essentially using an unwanted site was very favorable.
 

Putting data center capacity in unprecedented locations.

Due to limited water and power supplies in many parts of the world, establishing data centers simply can’t be done. We can now put a multi-megawatt data center on a ship, move it to where it’s needed, place it at a port near fiber connectivity, and begin serving customers without putting undue pressure on power grids or drinkable water supplies. Our technology opens up an entirely unprecedented world of data center placement flexibility. Countries that want to scale data center services now have a new tool to do so.
 

Optimizing data center construction.

We worked through the process of creating a large-scale, modular method of putting our facility together, using shipbuilding techniques and tools to produce a massive warehouse-sized data center superstructure. Now we can prefabricate both floating data center and land-based facilities with ease of construction and accelerated assembly speed. You’ll see new data centers from us coming live very soon.
 

Exceeding regulatory expectations.

Our water-cooling system offers exciting energy conservation and water conservation features, but it also causes no harm to wildlife, doesn’t allow a build-up of invasive species, and reduces noise pollution by 30x. California’s regulatory requirements are some of the most stringent in the world, and we easily met or exceeded every expectation.
 
All of these advantages sound great, but are you wondering what the customer experience is like?
 
Simply put, we have the same and better technical performance. When paying for power consumption, our wholesale customers benefit from one of the most power-efficient data centers in the world. Unlike other data centers, with spikes in power consumption due to weather, our cooling systems have 24x7x365 predictable power consumption without variability. They’re paying for a more sustainable system.
 
We met all the appropriate standards and certifications for resilience, data protection, and security. The data center sector has a very disciplined process of certification and commissioning, and we went above and beyond that process with compliances that include FedRAMP (to support confidential government facilities) and HIPAA (for healthcare information).
 
In other words, Stockton is a data center. It’s just more sustainable and higher performing.
 

Wrapping Up

To sum it up, from taking a concept into production, we discovered we can deliver superior colocation data center capacity at market terms; we can rethink where data centers can go, the impact they have, and the advantages they bring to local communities, countries, and the world.
 
We think that our approach offers such compelling advantages that it could be a competitive disruptor for any large organization that adopts it. Being able to rapidly develop and deploy data center capacity that minimizes electricity consumption and comes with no water consumption allows cloud providers, colocation providers, enterprises, and governments to build more sustainable data centers with better performance and lower cost wherever possible they want, whenever they want.
 
We have a data center. But under the hood, it’s a game-changing cooling design, like moving from the world of cars to a Tesla(™). It’s simply in another category.
More Recent Posts
News & Updates

The Need for an Autonomous Data Center

If you’re a data center provider, it goes without saying that your operations team has two fundamental responsibilities: To monitor and manage the physical data

Schedule your tour today.

We can schedule an in-person or virtual tour. Take your pick.

Fill out the form and we’ll be in touch shortly.

Schedule a Tour

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 C3.ai, 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.