Tuesday May 21, 2024

Data Center Design Shop Talk with Critical Facility Group's Christopher McLean, PE, ATD, LEED AP

For this episode of the Data Center Frontier Show Podcast, DCF Editor in Chief Matt Vincent sat down for a chat with  Christopher McLean, PE, ATD, LEED AP.

Specializing in the design, operations and construction of data centers, Chris is a Principal at Critical Facility Group in Boston. He previously held Director-level roles at a global engineering and construction corporation, a consulting engineering firm, as well as at a carrier hotel and colocation facility. 

Grounded in journeyman desktop support and hardware specification expertise, McLean's data center experience holistically encompasses all aspects of data center delivery, including elements of modular design and construction, design engineering, and facility operations. 

He is a frequent presenter at technical conferences, and contributor to industry publications.

We caught up with Chris shortly after his appearance presenting an AI facility design and construction case study on the seminar stage at Data Center World. 

Our conversation touched on  the challenges posed by high-density AI designs in data centers and the overall "state of liquid cooling" for AI. 

Additionally, the importance of a pragmatic approach in recycling IT assets and the adoption of new battery technologies was highlighted. 

An increasing interest in nuclear small modular reactors (SMRs) for meeting the power demands of data centers and the challenges of the AI era, and the potential economic and community impact of these technologies, was also discerned and discussed. 

Talk also ranged over such subjects as data center controls, building automation, electrical power monitoring systems, and building management systems to enhance total product delivery to data center operators.

Here's a timeline of the podcast's key moments:

2:31 - Discussion centers on the increasing interest and viability of nuclear energy, particularly SMRs, in meeting the rising power demands of data centers.

5:42 - Talk turns to the diversity of SMR designs, safety features, public perception challenges, and the potential positive economic impact and innovation these technologies could bring to the industry.

10:00 - DCF leans into Chris' insight as a design engineer, leading to a discussion on the challenges posed by high-density AI designs in data centers, the need for precise load information for effective design, and the necessity of creating flexible environments to accommodate rapidly evolving technology, while avoiding overshooting or undershooting design requirements.

15:32 - DCF solicits opinion on the state of liquid cooling for AI, as the discussion goes on to specifically compare and contrast direct to chip with immersion cooling technologies and methods.

16:02 - Further exploration of the deployment of immersion cooling technology in data centers, with McLean considering the hallmarks of the mechanical engineering team and CFD models being employed at Critical Facility Group in terms of evaluation and potential implementation.

21:59 - Discussion turns to data center BMS trends and insights on the evolution of fire protection in the industry, specifically focusing on the transition from MEP firms to specialty fire protection groups.

25:10 - Thoughts on a pragmatic approach to recycling and sustainability in data centers, focusing on repurposing IT assets, particularly in the context of the AI revolution and the importance of giving obsolete components a second life.

31:04 - Talk ranges from discussion about Single-Pair Ethernet technologies, power issues, renewable energy, battery backup, and the potential future trends in the data center industry.

33:03 - McLean elaborates on the relative adoption of battery technologies including lithium-ion, nickel-zinc, and the challenges faced in replacing valve regulated lead–acid (VRLA) batteries, emphasizing the need for education and innovation in the industry.


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