New Strategies for Keeping Cool

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More efficient cooling is one of the top priorities of the green data center movement these days, but it's also one of the most challenging.

After all, a new cooling infrastructure isn't just a simple software upgrade or server swap -- it usually involves a fairly sizable capital expenditure and a lot of man-hours. So if there ever was a project that required a thorough planning stage, this is it.

Processor.com offers a number of key points on which to evaluate existing cooling environments. Top considerations should be to line up industry benchmarks like PUE and DCiE to help establish meaningful baselines to evaluate future performance. Advanced measurement techniques like computational fluid dynamics (CFD) are also helpful in identifying existing weak spots. And by measuring four crucial temperatures -- AC outlet, AC inlet, IT outlet and IT inlet -- you can use simple mathematics to gauge a wide range of heating and cooling factors.

It's also important to realize that operating conditions tend to fluctuate over long-term and short-term periods, says ZDnet's Heather Clancy. That's why it may be necessary to deploy an adaptable power and cooling automation system like SynapSense, which can manipulate cooling systems and data loads to meet changing needs. The system uses a host of wireless sensors throughout the plant to trigger automated responses from a central management system. The company says it can shave some 35 percent off a typical cooling bill.

There's also a big advantage in going modular, according to a new white paper from Alcatel-Lucent. The company argues that a two-phase modular approach can reduce consumption up to 90 percent by maximizing physical data center space and allowing advanced cooling technology to work more efficiently.

Clearly, the extent to which a given enterprise should go to revamp its cooling infrastructure will depend heavily on the ROI the project will generate. At the moment, that would be on the low side considering the relatively low cost of energy. But as we've seen over the past few years, volatility has a way of striking at a moment's notice. And while that might improve the return, it will also likely boost the capital expense as the rest of the industry scrambles to retrofit as well.