Ben Hatton Data center ‘free cooling’: The water side economization process

Cooling towers

Our outside cooling towers allow us to chill down heated water that passes through our secondary water loop.

Winter is approaching, which for us means that we can begin to take advantage of ‘free cooling’ in our data center. Free cooling is utilized by many data centers that are located in moderate or cold climates, and it allows the data center to take advantage of the natural temperature for much of its cooling needs during the cold winter months. This can result in significant energy savings as well as lower electric bills. We’ve touched on this somewhat in the past, but I want to take a look at how we accomplish free cooling at Data Cave. 

Water side economization

Data Cave uses the process of water side economization during the colder months to remove the hot exhaust air from our data suites, chill it down using a combination of our water chillers and outside cooling towers, and return it to our internal CRAC units. The overall process looks like this:

  1. Our CRAC units reject their heat into a chilled water loop.
  2. The chilled water heats up, and returns to a chiller, which uses power to chill the water again.
  3. As the chiller does its work, the heat is moved into a secondary water loop, which is sent outside to our cooling towers. Here, the cold outside air chills down this heated water.

Comparison to air side economization

In a past blog post we compared this process to air side economization, which is another form of free cooling that data centers can use at certain points in the year. I’d encourage you to read that post as well to learn more about the differences between these two methods: Air/Water Economizers: What’s in it for me?

This process allows us to achieve the same cooling objectives that we have every day of the year, but during these winter months we are able to let Mother Nature take care of most of the actual cooling work. The significant energy savings this results in makes the ability to take advantage of free cooling a very big deal for us as well as our customers.


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Ben Hatton White data center cabinets are moving in

Demo cabinet

Our new demo cabinet shows off many customization options, and brightens up the room!

If you’ve been to Data Cave lately, you probably noticed our new demo cabinet up in our front lobby. In addition to displaying many of the configuration options clients can choose when they colocate their servers with us, this also shows off the new white color option that clients can choose for their cabinets. Traditional cabinets have always been black, but there have been some cited benefits of switching to lighter colored cabinets, and it has been on the rise throughout the data center industry. These are real, tangible benefits that data center managers and tenants can see, outside of just the physical appearance. 

Here are what these benefits look like:

  1. Improved visibility: Like a snowy field in the middle of winter, a data center with light-colored cabinets provides much better visibility and lighting than a data center with all black cabinets. The more white cabinets a data center has, the lower its lighting requirements will be.
  2. Energy savings: Having less overall lighting in a data center also brings with it some savings on power usage. Sure, it may not be a tremendous amount when you compare it to how much power goes into data center cooling, but when your lighting can be reduced by up to 30%* as a result of using white cabinets, you’re sure to see a difference in how much power goes into lighting your data center, and for any data center, that’s a big deal.
  3. Better cleanliness: White cabinets also make the appearance of any dust buildup much more visible, making it considerably easier to keep the data center space clean and dust-free.

Come see it for yourself

We invite you to come and check out our new demo cabinet for yourself, and see the options that are available to both new and existing colocation clients. If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of white cabinets, we’d love to have a chat about that as well. Contact us today!

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Ben Hatton A disaster exposes the need for data center redundancy testing

LA generator explosion

A generator explosion rocked downtown Los Angeles last month, and caused multiple data center issues. (Image courtesy of ANG News)

It’s not very often that you hear of equipment explosions in our industry, but that very thing occurred a couple of months ago in California (thankfully no one was seriously injured). In downtown Los Angeles, a generator located in the basement of a shared office building exploded, injuring 4 and causing a ripple effect that impacted multiple data centers within the immediate area. This was largely in part due to a power station located nearby, which was highly damaged by the explosion.

I want to look at 2 of the data centers that were impacted the most from this event, and what lessons can be learned from it.

Data center #1: Cooling system power loss

One of the impacted data centers was located close to where the explosion happened, and while they didn’t lose full power to their facility, they did lose power to their entire cooling system. This resulted in highly elevated data center temperatures throughout their facility. While there was no reported damage or customer outages as a result of this, it did place their staff and customers on high alert.

Data center #2: Connectivity outage

A connectivity provider also operates a facility near to where the explosion took place, and as a result of the power station being damaged by the blast, their facility lost utility power. While it appears that they had a generator for backup power, they were unable to successfully switch over to generator power. As a result, their connectivity services were out for a noticeable amount of time.

A lesson to take from this

I think that the biggest lesson this incident speaks to is the importance of testing for any data center; specifically, testing your equipment as well as your redundancy procedures.

Equipment: You obviously never want to be in a position where a generator explodes on you. While the specific reason for the explosion still hasn’t been determined, the risk of failure for a generator or any piece of equipment can be reduced when that equipment is properly maintained and tested on a regular basis. When you have multiple types of equipment that your data center relies on for redundancy, this kind of testing is crucial. (Be on the lookout for a future blog post on this subject.)

RedundancyIt is equally important to test your redundancy measures themselves on a regular basis, to ensure that your equipment failover processes will work when they need to, should a piece of equipment fail. In the case of the connectivity provider’s facility, it was unable to switch over to generator power when they lost utility power. This situation isn’t good, and is something that can definitely be mitigated through ongoing testing and optimization.

There are always lessons to be learned from any incident, and this one revealed all too clearly that having ongoing equipment and redundancy testing procedures in place is absolutely crucial for data centers.


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Ben Hatton Why managing ‘shadow IT’ is good for data security

BYOD stats

BYOD is exploding, and with it the prevalence of shadow IT (image courtesy of ReadWrite)

Shadow IT is something that has become prevalent in many different organizations, due to the growth of corporate BYOD policies as well as the evolving needs that many employees have from a data and technology standpoint. These needs typically revolve around the ability to do one’s job more efficiently, and they are often met by the use 3rd party applications, or personal mobile devices. However, these tools are often used without the knowledge or consent of the company’s IT department. This can leave your IT department “in the dark,” and hence the phrase “shadow IT.”

As you can imagine, this presents a daunting security challenge, especially in light of the growing risk of data breaches that all businesses face today. As a business, you need to safeguard your data (and who has access to it) as well as possible, and part of this involves reining in and managing any shadow IT that may be occurring within your organization.

Here are some tips for managing shadow IT within your own company:

  • Establish specific policies on outside applications and devices. It is very important to accommodate for shadow IT within your company’s written policies and procedures. This should include the procedure that employees must follow when considering outside software options, what your company’s internal application review process looks like (if applicable), and a listing of any “approved” pieces of software that your company may choose to accept (more on that below).
  • Monitor your network for new software/devices in use. Having reliable monitoring in place will give you visibility into what devices and applications are being used on your network, allowing you to detect when new applications or devices are in use by employees. You can’t manage what you can’t see to begin with, so network monitoring is an absolute requirement when trying to manage shadow IT.
  • Evaluate and measure any new applications against your internal compliance requirements. Like any company that takes its data protection and security seriously, you probably already have specific standards when it comes to the types of software that you allow your employees to utilize on your network. If you are in healthcare or financial services, you also have a wide range of strict compliance requirements that apply to software usage as well. If you find that many of your employees are using outside applications to improve their overall efficiency and productivity (like Slack for instance), it can be beneficial to create a listing of outside applications that are “approved” for your employees to use if they desire. Prior to doing this, you will want to conduct a thorough review of the application itself to ensure that it is secure, supported, and compliant with your own compliance standards.

Shadow IT is poised to become more and more prevalent in today’s technology climate, and in light of the climate’s continually evolving security demands, it’s vital that you stay on top of any shadow IT in your own organization. With the right planning and policies, it is something that can be both monitored and maintained.

If your company has dealt with or is currently dealing with managing your own shadow IT, we’d be curious to learn how you are working through and managing that. Leave us a comment below!

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Ben Hatton Evaluating data center software: 3 things to consider

Recently I read a series of articles about the ‘failed’ business model of open source software companies, and what these companies should do to adapt and better compete against larger companies that provide proprietary software (here’s one of them). I won’t look too deeply into those specifics, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to look at some ways that you can evaluate software options yourself, if you are like any of our colocation clients who have multiple servers and applications to manage. Software is obviously a requirement when it comes to infrastructure management, so the ability to evaluate and make decisions on what software you will use is a very important one to have. Coding

3 factors you should consider

It’s no secret that we utilize several pieces of open source software here at Data Cave*. We use a combination of open source as well as proprietary software to serve a very wide range of functions to run pieces of equipment, as well as to monitor them. When it comes to making a decision to move forward with any piece of software, there are 3 primary factors that go into that decision:

  • Scalability: Does the software allow for new devices to be added over time? And if so, does its performance level continue to keep up? If you are a growth-focused organization like many of our clients, any software you utilize should be able to grow with your business, accommodating for higher workloads as your infrastructure needs become more demanding. This makes scalability a very big deal for any piece of software, especially software that manages some aspect of your server infrastructure.
  • Flexibility: What does the software offer in terms of overall functionality, in the short and long term? Is it reliable enough to support your business today, but full-featured enough to support needs your IT team may have in the future? This goes somewhat hand in hand with the point on scalability mentioned above; as your IT infrastructure evolves and grows, your specific needs from a software standpoint will likely evolve as well. Having a software tool in place that is flexible enough to support your current as well as future needs should play a major part in your decision-making process.
  • Support: Software support should include documentation on the product itself, as well as customer support in the form of a contract or warranty. Any reliable piece of software should be well documented and supported by its developers, making long-term support a must have for any new software you may be evaluating.

While the article I mentioned above focuses on the shifting business models being taken by some open source software companies, at the end of the day the only thing that should really matter to you is having reliable, flexible, and supported software that can help to sustain and grow your IT infrastructure along with your business. This applies regardless of whether you prefer open source vs. proprietary software, as well as whether you own your own data center vs. colocation space in a 3rd party facility. When it comes to your server management, there are many different needs for software, and there are also many different options out there to fill those needs.

These are the key things that we look for when we evaluate our own software needs at Data Cave, and I hope that these pointers can help with your own software evaluation needs as well!


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