Data Center Cooling: Let Heat Stay Outside With Mother Nature

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Data Center Cooling

More than ever, a variety of businesses rely on data centers for maximum uptime of websites, off-site storage, and other data-heavy applications. With continually increasing demands on capacity, data center owners and operators are focusing on energy efficiency both to keep sensitive equipment up and running, to reduce energy costs, and improve data center cooling.

In cooler climates, data centers can use outside air as a source of low-cost cooling. In other centers, operators keep their facilities cool with simple strategies like hot and cold aisles that limit exhaust mixing with cooled air. But for many data centers, increasingly complex and energy-hungry IT systems have created new challenges, including:

  • High costs over the life of cooling systems.
  • Growing complexity in managing cooling systems.
  • Availability of equipment capable of generating required cooling.
  • Availability of servicing for cooling equipment.
  • Scalability of cooling equipment.
  • Frequent IT upgrades that require higher-capacity cooling.

What are the current approaches to data center cooling, and how can design of data centers impact the cooling process?

Requirements for Data Center Cooling Systems

Within data centers, cooling systems must lend themselves to flexibility and scalability for reliable performance. Typically, data centers use solutions that are pre-engineered and standardized to handle loads that most certainly will increase as technology advances.

In addition, data center operators must choose among types of cooling units, including:

  • Chilled water.
  • Condenser water-cooled.
  • Glycol-cooled.
  • Air-cooled.

Some other factors go into choosing the right cooling system. For example, different types of buildings with variances in architectural features will affect how efficiently particular systems work. The location of equipment rooms in relation to cooling equipment, heights of suspended ceilings and raised floors, overall floor plans, and other factors also play a role.

The Role of Data Center Design

The ways in which data centers are designed can significantly impact cooling. For modern data centers, architects and engineers consider a number of factors early in the design process that will have long-term effects on cooling efficiency, including:

  • Ease of maintenance.
  • Cost and value.
  • Ease of management.
  • Ability to scale as needed and adapt to changing conditions.
  • Availability of needed components and parts.

After a client and design team establish goals, some requirements also factor into the process of building in an appropriate cooling system:

  • Heat load and critical load. Engineers must understand the requirements of equipment that will be used within a given space, along with the number of people who will occupy the space, lighting to be used and other factors that contribute to the heat load.
  • Computational fluid dynamic modeling. To determine CFD modeling, engineers consider areas both above and below the flooring. The projected airflow in a specific space assists with choices about the placement of cooling systems along with IT equipment and other items.
  • Needed power density. Computer rooms typically require varying levels of power density, which engineers must predict to ensure adequate cooling.
  • Proper distribution of power in a given space. To develop a strategy for power distribution, engineers must determine optimal placement for equipment along with the best locations for cabling, whether under flooring or overhead.

Current Approaches to Data Center Cooling

For modern data centers, several approaches to cooling currently are gaining popularity.

  • Creating chimneys over racks that redirect hot air up and out of the data center.
  • Updating servers and other equipment to newer, more energy-efficient models.
  • Using liquid rather than air to cool equipment.
  • Cutting some in-house services to reduce total data center space.
  • Monitoring overall activity in a data center facility to determine how high thermostats can be raised in different conditions without harming equipment.
  • Installing variable-speed drives with fans that spin at differing rates depending on how much cooling is needed at a given time. Variable-speed drives may reduce energy consumption by as much as 15 percent.

Efficient Cooling May Require Diverse Strategies

Data centers vary in their age, energy efficiency, capacity, demand and other factors. To maximize cooling, operators should consider potential upgrades to older facilities and design new ones with efficiency top of mind. Using both existing and new cooling technologies can provide benefits including lower costs and higher production.