Data centers are starting to truly feel the heat these days. Elements such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), gaming, high-performance computing, 3D graphics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) all require more complex and faster computing services.
The cloud services business is also growing rapidly and all of these elements combined are creating a demand for more efficient use of data center space and to keep up with space and storage needs. Studies are showing that annual energy consumption per server is growing by 9 percent globally. This information leads to one core and vital question, is your data center running hot?
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Reasons for Temperature Control in Data Centers
Datacenters historically contain a mix of both hot and cool air – most devices are designed to push out hot air out the back, while air conditioning and other cooling systems bring in cool air. Keeping the proper balance between hot and cool air has always been a priority in order to provide optimal data center uptime. When a data center gets too hot, the chances of equipment failure increase dramatically. Even an intermittent failure can affect data, equipment performance and cause you to lose revenue. On the other hand when a data center runs too cold energy costs skyrocket.
By closely monitoring the temperature in your data center to create an optimal environment for the datacenter to operate. Companies can save thousands of dollars by reducing energy costs while still making sure that sensitive IT equipment isn’t compromised by high temperatures with the proper controls, sensors, and understanding of technology running in the center. It is unfortunate but many of today’s datacenters are over-cooled because they have not been properly evaluated to find their optimal temperature thresholds. Why? Because most of today’s equipment has improved tolerances for a higher temperature range and these new tolerances have not been factored in to find the optimal temperature range.
There is one issue a data center operating at higher temperatures runs the risk of more quickly hitting acceptable temperature limits if some hardware failure causes the cooling system to fail. It is critical to provide proactive monitoring that will send alerts when the temperature or other environment threshold is reached, and reacting quickly to remedy the situation.
Cooling Data Centers
Datacenter cooling technology has one primary objective and that is to maintain environmental conditions suitable for your technology equipment to operate. The future of how to best cool data centers and specifically the data center server rack cabinets have arrived. The design of many traditional data centers leads to hot spots which were tricky to deal with. Today’s high-density computing environments have the potential to create even more heat-related issues since more heat generated per rack than ever before.
Traditional Cooling Options
Data centers have used chilled water systems to deliver cold air to the racks for decades. The process is simple, chilled water flows through a cooling coil, normally outside the datacenter, then fans are used to push air from outside the facility into the datacenter via ductwork and vents. In general, this is not an extremely efficient approach, it’s a popular one because it works and the equipment is fairly inexpensive. Another method that uses chilled water is the raised floor cooling system. In this option, rather than using vents and ductwork cold air from a CRAH or CRAC is forced into the space below the raised floor of the data center. Each of these methods creates hot and cold spots in the datacenter and at times does not provide proper cooling to cabinets or equipment causing them to run hot.
Today, a much more efficient and effective cooling solution is liquid cooling. The traditional chiller uses air to carry away the heat, while liquid cooling uses liquid to take that heat away. Liquid cooling reduces energy consumption, is highly targeted, introducing far fewer pollutants and condensation into the data center. Liquid cooling is also used for direct-to-chip cooling where pipes are used to bring coolant directly to a plate that’s integrated into a motherboard’s processors to disperse its heat. It’s a very effective way to cool off a specific device that’s running hot. However, it still requires fans to be run because only a portion of the server components is cooled with liquid.
Evaporative cooling is another option to have on your radar and may work in certain instances. The temperature is managed by exposing hot air to water. What this does is causes the water to evaporate and pulls the heat out of the air. Although an efficient way of cooling a data center, it does require a lot of water to work. You also run the risk of bringing too much humidity into the air and data center which may cause another type of failure.
You should also be aware of the choice to use immersion systems. In this process, the hardware itself is submerged into a bath of non-conductive, non-flammable dielectric fluid. It’s a more efficient option than using air but it’s a labor-intensive task and method.
Evolving Cooling Needs & Emerging Technologies
Another piece of the puzzle is the advancements in device technology and Artificial Technology that are creating more efficient and effective equipment:
- Increase the number of Solid-State Drives: can be cooled with immersion solutions
- Helium-filled HDDs, storage hardware: suitable for liquid cooling
Things you can do with your current data center to save on energy costs
- Prioritize hot and cold isles in your datacenter for more efficient airflow. This is accomplished with plenum curtains
- Filler panels help to optimize the airflow and temperature of your server rack eliminating hot spots and improving overall cooling efficacies
- Get an airflow assessment. This will help make sure there are no issues with any cracks in the windows, doors, walls, ventilation, or design.
Some of the other future innovations and options rely on a hosted smart assistants or AI technologies. It’s helpful because you can get a report on how much cooling you need so you’re not overdoing it and driving up energy costs. Advanced technologies such as these use smart cooling and machine learning to read CPU and GPU temperatures and trigger cooling as required.
It’s common for a data center’s cooling system to perform more work than what’s needed to bring down the temperature. There’s a demand for data center managers to address the heat issue and come up with affordable and energy-efficient solutions for cooling. Luckily, smart advancements in technology are answering the call and helping IT staff to find more effective ways to keep the data center at an optimal temperature.