The Hot Aisle Predictions

Julius Neudorfer

As we wrap up the end of the first decade of the new millennium, I felt compelled to think about what the first year of the next decade might bring.

First, a quick look back. 1999 was a wild time for IT. Y2K anticipation and remediation spelled good economic times for almost anyone who had anything to do with computers. After it was over, the lights were still on and there was still money in the bank statements. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, but many wanted to know if it was all an overblown threat ... and some Y2K consultants started driving cabs in 2000. Some data centers were still being designed for 35-50 watts per SF, with 500-1000 watts per rack. The hot aisle-cold aisle concept was not yet a commonly accepted standard practice.

2001 brought a sobering new reality to the U.S. and the world. It affected people in a way not seen since Pearl Harbor in 1941. For the government and IT, there was recognition that 'cyber security' had a new importance. It was no longer just hackers seeing if they could deface the Washington Post for kicks.

In 2002, the U.S. and most of the world's economies were still reeling and IT suffered. By the end of 2003, we began to return to the new 'normal.' IT and the U.S. economy were somewhat back and on the upswing.

By 2003, average density was 50-75 watts per SF, racks 1-2 KW.

By 2004, virtualization and blade servers were moving to the pilot project stage. By 2005, they were just beginning to be deployed for some production applications. Average watts per rack started to climb significantly for these projects.

In 2006, virtualization was gaining hold. Data centers just began to run out of power or cooling or both. In January, the EPA convened the first national conference dedicated to examining energy savings opportunities for enterprise servers and data centers. Average watts per rack 2-3 K. High Density meant 4-5 KW per rack.

In 2007, The Green Grid was born and 'Green' and energy efficiency began to surface in the IT lexicon, but mostly as idle curiosity. The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Final Report to Congress focused on data center energy usage. In fact, the report warned that by 2011 data centers would exceed 'the electricity consumed by the nation's color televisions' (clearly a critical yardstick of U.S. productivity and a matter of national pride). As a result, the EPA started programs that would result in the first Energy Star for servers and also for data centers. Yet, at many data centers, 75-100 watts per SF was still the norm, and racks were running 2-3KW with some high-density racks going to 4-6 KW. Virtualization and blade servers were no longer a rarity, but some early adopters had begun to run into power and cooling density issues, when trying to run more than one 5KW blade server per rack.

With the arrival of 2008, the world had a near economic meltdown. Governments worldwide hit the 'scram' button to keep the financial reactors from going critical. Green was mentioned more often, and the words sustainability and carbon footprint were actually listed in the tracks at some IT and data center conferences.   

By 2009, IT and virtually everything else froze for the first half of the year. The auto industry stalled, General Motors and Chrysler were put on life support by the government, and financial consultants started driving cabs. However, mega data centers mushroomed despite the economic situation. Some manufacturers offered liquid cooling to support 30-50 KW per rack. In the data center world, Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) has nearly taken over from '9's as the mission statement. The EPA issued the first 'Energy Star for Servers' in May, and nearly finalized the first Energy Star for Data Centers. The Uptime Institute went down (and was acquired by 451 Group). The Copenhagen Global Warming Summit capped the year and the decade, with the promise of improving the world with more international support. And in the U.S., the EPA declares war on CO2 and promises many new regulations.

And of course, 2009 saw the development of CTO Edge and 'The Hot Aisle,' and its soon to be fabled 2010 predictions. So assuming you are still reading this and have not clicked off elsewhere, here are my predictions for the coming year.

  • I believe that data centers may have reached an inflection point wherein the direction of the curve of endlessly increasing energy use will begin to change and the energy efficiency of both the support infrastructure (power and cooling systems), as well as the IT equipment itself, will improve. This will be driven by both economic and political pressures. New servers will become far more efficient to be EPA Energy Star certified or they will not be purchased by government agencies or large organizations.
  • Data centers will become smarter. Energy monitoring, metrics and management will become an important mandate for data centers. Smart Grid technology will become part of the data center infrastrure management. Verifiable PUE numbers will continue to slowly improve, unsubstantiated PUE claims will improve even faster, someone will claim to have a PUE of 0.9 (using 'cold fusion' or perhaps Mr. Fusion). The EPA will issue the first Energy Star for Data Center Certifications.
  • Outages will continue; 2009 saw many high-profile outages. As more people and organizations continue to put more data and applications on and into the 'cloud,' more sites and services have expanded exponentially and are overstressed (or at least the pared-down IT support staff is) - there will be more outages in the coming year.
  • The data center hosting market will continue to expand, as more small and mid-sized companies have found that the capital costs (or lack of available power or cooling) for upgrading their data center, forces them to rent rack space from hosting providers or to outsource their IT applications to a cloud service.
  •  Modularity, flexibly and 'efficient scalability' will be the watchwords for new data center designs for the coming decade. Containerized data centers will become the new super-size blade servers (with 1,000 'blades' i.e., 1U servers), pre-built for dedicated applications. Just add power and water (chilled, but no ice please) and you have additional capacity. Buzzword for flexible data centers: 'Container Hotel'.
  • Cold aisles will become warmer and hot aisles hotter, as data center operators finally move to become more energy efficient by adopting ASHRAE's 9.9 recommendations, thus allowing up to 80� F cold aisles (fashion outlook: Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts will be the new IT look).

So stay tuned and have a green, carbon-free holiday season and a happy sustainable New Year!

Until then, best wishes from Julius and CTO Edge, here at The Hot Aisle.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jan 1, 2010 1:01 AM Rajan D Rajan D  says:
A nice blog I guess the cooling trends will go beyond the traditional aisle cooling concepts and get in to rack/ server cooling. Chilled water cooling systems using piping / capillary arrangement and heat exchangers inside rack/ on server CPUs can be a near possibility. Cooling using direct and indirect methods shall be the norm Rajan Reply
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