The Big Picture, and the Small, on Data Center Cooling

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    Digital Integration: Overcoming Enterprise Data Challenges

    Data centers are getting bigger and the hardware they contain is getting denser and is being utilized at a higher rate than ever. So it’s no wonder that heat generation and dissipation is becoming the central focus of both facilities and data operations management.

    But with such a diversity of infrastructure in both the enterprise and the cloud, how are organizations supposed to craft an integrated solution that provides enough of a gain in both data and energy efficiency while still maintaining the flexibility to accommodate a constantly shifting data environment?

    With so many options on the table these days, everything from free cooling to highly sophisticated Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) platforms, navigating the power/cooling divide can be tricky. One way to go about it, however, is to focus on the fundamentals. What, exactly, is causing the heat in your data room, and what is the best way to get rid of it?

    STULZ USA and CoolIT Systems have hit on a new approach that drills right down to the processors in IT equipment and provides a rapid cool-down and dispersion method that they say produces dramatic results. The “chip-to-atmosphere” approach utilizes CoolIT’s Direct Contact Liquid Cooling solution in conjunction with STULZ’s engineered cooling systems to target the hottest components in highly dense server configurations and remove excess heat through a facility-wide dissipation architecture. The companies say they can produce immediate capex and opex results with minimal footprint, even in the most compute-heavy environments.

    Other firms are rethinking the entire approach to data center cooling, modeling their new infrastructure on other high-heat environments, like car engines. Aligned Energy turned its systems know-how to its own data operations recently when it devised a ceiling-mounted refrigerator coil in place of traditional air-cooling units, a move that CFO Mark Gibbens describes to as not cooling the air but removing the heat. The coil pulls hot air away from sensitive equipment, leaving a cooler environment below. The company has now built a new business unit, Aligned Data Centers, around the technology, and has teamed up with other firms within its investor group to provide engineering services, measurement and other functions.

    At the end of the day, virtually all cooling solutions rely on the same basic element of containment, says Panduit’s Michael Adams. You need to contain both the hot air coming off the devices and the cold air coming in so you can direct them to their appropriate destinations. This calls for the enterprise to address four key thermal issues: the mixing of hot and cold air, leakage between hot and cold airflow paths, hot air recirculation and obstructions to airflows. By addressing these key concerns, and building a power/cooling infrastructure that is both flexible and scalable, the enterprise should be able to maintain a highly efficient data ecosystem as both technology and the nature of data operations evolves.

    The power-to-cooling ratio for data infrastructure has seen dramatic improvement over the past decade, primarily due to increased virtualization and the demands to improve data capabilities without expanding physical footprints. But cooling technologies have made dramatic gains as well and are now capable of targeting the most critical elements in the rack while addressing conditions throughout the data facility.

    As new modular, cloud-facing systems are brought on line, only the most short-sighted of providers will give scant attention to how efficiently they can be powered and cooled.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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