Simple Steps to a Cooler Data Center

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

Keep Your Cool in the Data Center

The more tightly you pack heat-generating equipment, the more energy you consume trying to cool the air in and around it. An efficient cooling system is a top priority.

In any given situation, there is usually a simple way to reach a resolution and a hard way. The fact that most people, managers in particular, tend to gravitate toward the hard way has more to do with a lack of imagination than with the stubbornness of prickly situations.

Such is the case with data center energy management. On the surface, it seems that most of the gains made to date have come from advanced technologies like server virtualization and power/cooling-management software. But it's becoming more widely known of late that there are a number of ways to achieve increased energy efficiency that are inexpensive, easy to implement and that don't require a lot of hands-on maintenance or management.

A key target in this regard is in cooling. After all, keeping hardware within sustainable operating environments quite often requires just as much energy as actually running the devices, so any gains in efficiency here go directly to the monthly operating budget.

One of the easiest cooling techniques is one of the most obvious, according to Telstra's Jason Friedler: Turn up the thermostat. Most data centers are kept at a brisk 72 degrees F even though most manufacturers say their gear can operate comfortably at 80 degrees or higher. It's part of IT culture to err on the side of caution, particularly when it comes to availability and reliability. While this is a noble sentiment, it is also true that every degree of increase in temperature can shave 4 percent off the electricity bill, which can produce quite a monthly windfall at some organizations.

So-called "free cooling" is another idea that is catching on. This concept has enterprises turning toward natural sources, such as nearby water reserves or cool outside air to help with the heat load. The idea certainly has merit, but it doesn't come without cost. Emerson Network Power's Ron Spangler points out the need for fluid and air economizer equipment to gain the largest benefit from free cooling. There are a wide variety of systems on the market these days, each geared toward accommodating various natural conditions, such as when cool outside air is accompanied by a generous dose of humidity.

Simple architectural changes in the data center can also have a significant impact. The IRS just completed an evaluation of two of its main processing centers -- Memphis, Tenn., and Martinsburg, W.V. -- and concluded the agency could save more than $700,000 a year through simple fixes like replacing missing floor tiles and rearranging the server racks.

Even when it comes to something as fundamental as hot-aisle/cold-aisle designs, there are right ways and wrong ways. Robert Sullivan, the IT engineer who came up with the concept more than 20 years ago, told Tech Target recently that many enterprises make the mistake of trying to isolate and control air in each cold aisle rather than ensuring there is enough cold air in the entire room to meet the heat load. Doing the latter reduces the number of control points to just one per room, making it easier to monitor and ensure that cold air is not over-supplied.

Energy efficiency is one of those issues that is not likely to go away any time soon. For every conservation plateau reached, another comes into view. But that doesn't mean the process has to be difficult. The low-hanging fruit is ready for picking now. Best to gather that up before getting the ladder to reach the higher branches.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jun 14, 2010 4:18 PM Jack Stone Jack Stone  says:

It's true, there are simple ways to become more efficient. I also read that Energy Star has created a data center energy rating. Hopefully this will help those in the data center business to change habits, step it up and become more efficient.


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