Artificial intelligence (AI) policy: ASHRAE prohibits the entry of content from any ASHRAE publication or related ASHRAE intellectual property (IP) into any AI tool, including but not limited to ChatGPT. Additionally, creating derivative works of ASHRAE IP using AI is also prohibited without express written permission from ASHRAE.

logoShaping Tomorrow's Built Environment Today

Keeping Up With the Trends: How Digital Demands Affect Data Centers

Keeping Up With the Trends: How Digital Demands Affect Data Centers

From ASHRAE Journal Newsletter, July 27, 2021

By David Quirk, P.E., Member ASHRAE

The data center industry is constantly changing as industry trends are driving an increase in digital demands.

The growth of artificial intelligence, digital currency, big data analysis, the growing dispersed workforce, connected transport, internet of smart devices or sensors and telehealth have increased the importance of data centers. Digital trends are constantly evolving, causing the data center industry to change.

To help ASHRAE members navigate these changes, TC 9.9, Mission Critical Facilities, Data Centers, Technology Spaces and Electronic Equipment, is restarting its ASHRAE Journal data center column series, which seeks out answers to these important trends and topics that drive energy efficiency and sustainability within data centers.

This reoccurring ASHRAE Journal column will seek to educate and challenge the industry on its baseline understanding and future assumptions associated with the rapidly changing data center industry. The July ASHRAE Journal kicks off this revived column by focusing on how digital currency is affecting data centers.

Designing for Data Center Occupants

One industry shift is related to data center occupants. Data centers’ carbon footprints are increasing as more square footage of the built environment shifts to housing digital occupants instead of humans. Digital occupants include social media platforms, digital currencies, communications systems and platforms, artificial intelligence, data storage and records, digital search and digital health records and information.

Because digital occupants are different than people, their thermal environment can also be different, such as their temperature and humidity needs. The difference between digital occupants and their thermal environments can help drive energy efficiency and sustainability through the wider recommended and allowable psychrometric ranges as defined in ASHRAE TC 9.9’s Thermal Guidelines for Data Processing Environments.

Unlike human occupancy, the growth and needs of software in data centers are much more complicated to define. Though the industry has attempted to predict these trends for nearly two decades through IT Equipment Power Trends, it’s continually found itself caught off guard and dependent upon many moving parts for each segment of the data center industry (internet, financial, telecommunications, etc.).

Unique and Varying Data Centers

Data centers are as unique as their digital occupants. Those digital occupants vary greatly in their priorities and ability for resiliency, energy efficiency and scalability. Data centers consist of different industries, which all have different levels of maturity and levels of competition in terms of pricing, regulatory aggressiveness and corporate sustainability initiatives. In other words, not all data centers are created equal.

The industry is constantly driven to optimize a multi-variable problem of energy efficiency, sustainability, scalability, resiliency/reliability and costs as well as anticipating rapid changes driven by the pace of innovation of software. Further complicating this optimization problem is the fundamental gross mismatch in the rate of change between software, information technology (IT) hardware and the buildings/systems that house and support this IT/software. 

Digital occupancies consume more energy per square footage of building space; hence the combined growth and density requires a more careful focus of ASHRAE and regulatory bodies to drive increased energy efficiency and, ultimately, a carbon neutral footprint.

ASHRAE Resources

ASHRAE has served as an important contributor in driving consensus in the data center energy standards, and TC 9.9 has published numerous books on data centers, including the industry-pivoting Thermal Guidelines and Power Trends books.

ASHRAE has collaborated on the development of equipment standards as well through the Standing Standards Project Committee (SSPC) 127, Method of Testing for Rating Air Conditioning Units Serving Data Center (DC) and Other Information Technology Equipment (ITE) Spaces and AHRI 1360, Standard for Performance Rating of Computer and Data Processing Room Air Conditioners, which define minimum equipment performance for computer room air-conditioning equipment.

Further, ASHRAE has collaborated with The Green Grid (TGG) to publish a book on the power utilization effectiveness (PUE) metric, which is the industry standard for operating performance of today’s data centers. 

Combined with the design standards from ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 90.4, Energy Standard for Data Centers, mechanical load component (MLC) and electrical loss component (ELC), there’s a suite of key performance indicators and metrics that help to define and advance energy efficiency and sustainability within these digital environments.

Continue to dive into the data center industry’s trends, challenges and solutions with TC 9.9’s recurring ASHRAE Journal column. For more information, visit