Ben Hatton Why Data Center Temperatures Are Going Up

February 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Rising temperature

Data center temperatures throughout the industry are on the rise.

It has never been a secret that data centers use a tremendous amount of energy (an estimated 1.5% of all the world’s energy to be exact), and that a huge chunk of that energy goes into its cooling systems. Keeping colocated equipment cool and functioning is serious business, and it will always be a priority for data centers. However, over the past few years there has been a gradual shift in the industry regarding the actual temperature that IT equipment should be cooled down to and maintained at within data centers; on the whole, these temperatures are going up.

In fact, the leading group representing the heating and cooling industry (ASHRAE) has increased the recommended temperature for data centers on more than one occasion over the past few years. Currently, their maximum recommended temperature is 80.6 degrees. While this is considerably higher than temperatures data centers have maintained traditionally, the facts are there that prove it can work.

My goal for this post is to cover the shift towards warmer temperatures in the data center. I’ll look at some of the different drivers for this change, how it is being done now, and how it is already having a serious impact.

The Drivers: Why is it being done?

When it comes to cooling, the mindset of data center operators has traditionally been “the cooler, the better.” Since IT equipment generates a lot of heat at all times, there should always be a high level of cooling in place to keep that equipment as cool as possible. While this has always been the gist of it, this high level of cooling has contributed to the immense power usage of data centers. With many new and existing data centers seeking to reduce their overall carbon footprint, it is completely understandable that they would look for ways to be more efficient with their cooling to meet this goal. Here are the primary motivating factors for shifting to warmer temperatures in the data center:

  1. Environmental Friendliness. When a data center is able to reduce their total energy usage, they can have a tremendous impact on the environment.

  2. Cost Savings. This really goes without saying, but using less energy for cooling also means huge cost savings for the data centers, savings that can potentially be passed on to their customers.

The Methods: How is it being done?

There are several ways that data centers are working to effectively maintain their equipment at higher temperatures in order to see these benefits. Many of the world’s largest tech companies like Google,  Microsoft, and Facebook are already employing several methods in some of their new data centers to accomplish this, but here are some ways that data centers can achieve and maintain warmer temperatures:

  1. Location. A data center’s location plays a huge role in both the power and cooling options that are available to it. Many data centers, including Data Cave, are able to take advantage of their location during the winter months and use “free cooling” to either cool the IT equipment directly, or chill the circulating water that is used for cooling (as opposed to running the water through a chiller). This results in less overall energy usage, and is made possible by the physical location of the data center.

  2. Monitoring Technology. The methods and technology used by data centers to monitor their temperature, humidity, air flow, and energy usage in real time have become much more advanced over the past several years, allowing for more flexibility in the temperatures that server rooms are maintained at. More sophisticated monitoring tools can allow for data center personnel to be more efficiently alerted to a potential overheating piece of equipment, as well as faster response times in the event that one does indeed have an issue.

  3. Server Equipment. More than ever before, servers themselves are being built in such a way that they can tolerate much warmer temperatures than they previously could. In fact, many servers produced by Dell (click for video) are now guaranteed by them to fully function at temperatures up to 115 degrees, and studies conducted by Intel and Microsoft have shown that higher temperatures can be achieved with many modern servers, without harming the actual equipment (you can check out the full Intel study here).

The Industry Impact

The shift towards warmer temperatures has been slowly but surely gaining traction within the data center industry, and it is already starting to have an impact. This impact can be seen in many of the new data centers around the world that have been built by Facebook, Google, and many of today’s largest tech companies (check out some examples of data centers built by Facebook and Google). This is definitely a trend that is here to stay, and I think in the long run it will have tremendous benefits for everyone involved: data center operators, customers who depend on the data center and of course, the environment.

How we do it at Data Cave

Maintaining more environmentally friendly temperatures isn’t just something for the larger companies though. There are several things we do at Data Cave as well that are in line with this industry shift. As I mentioned earlier, we take advantage of our facility’s physical location during the winter months, and use “free cooling” from the outside air to provide chilled water, which reduces our overall energy consumption. Also, we have a wide range of real-time monitoring in place that allows us to consistently improve our efficiency and cool our data suites as cost effectively as possible (I’ll cover our monitoring in more detail in a future post!). These practices have helped us to deliver colocation services that are both cost effective and environmentally friendly.

 

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