Data Center Temperature

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The Data Center Temperature Debate

Though never directly articulated by any data center authority, the prevailing practice surrounding these critical facilities has often been "The colder, the better." However, some leading server manufacturers and data center efficiency experts share the opinion that data centers can run far hotter than they do today without sacrificing uptime, and with a huge savings in both cooling related costs and CO2 emissions. One server manufacturer recently announced that their rack of servers can operate with inlet temperatures at 104 deg F.

Why does it feel the need to push the envelope? The cooling infrastructure is an energy hog. This system, operating 24x7x365, consumes a lot of electricity to create the optimal computing environment, which may hover anywhere between 55 to 65 deg F. (The current "recommended" range from ASHRAE is 18-27 C or 64.4 deg F through 80.6 deg F)

When energy wasn't a major expense or its availability a concern, the excessively cool data center didn't receive much press - only those who experienced heat-related downtime faced scrutiny. Today, however, data center power bills and carbon footprint reports are reaching the desks of CFOs and CIOs, who are being impelled to change things.

To achieve efficiencies, a number of influential end users are running their data centers warmer and are advising their contemporaries to follow suit. But the process isn't as simple as raising the thermostat in your home. Here are some of the key arguments and considerations:

Position: Raising server inlet temperature will realize significant energy savings.

Arguments for:

Arguments against:

Position: Raising server inlet temperature complicates reliability, recovery, and equipment warranties.

Arguments for:

Arguments against:

Position: Servers are not as fragile and sensitive as one may think.
Studies performed in 2008 underscore the resiliency of modern hardware.

Arguments for:

Arguments against:

Position: Higher Inlet Temperatures may result in uncomfortable working conditions for data center staff and visitors.

Arguments for:

Arguments against:

Conclusions

The movement to raise data center temperatures is gaining but it will face opposition until the concerns are addressed. Reliability and availability are at the top of any IT professional's performance plan. For this reason, most to date have decided to err on the side of caution: to keep it cool at all costs. Yet, higher temperatures and reliability are not mutually exclusive. There are ways to safeguard your data center investments and become more energy efficient.

Temperature is inseparable from airflow management; data center professionals must understand how the air gets around, into, and through their server racks. Computational fluid dynamics (CFDs) can help by analyzing and charting projected airflow on the data center floor, but as cooling equipment doesn't always perform to spec and the data you enter could miss some key obstructions, onsite monitoring and adjustments are critical requirements to insure that your CFD data and calculations are accurate.

Data centers with excess cooling are prime environments to raise the temperature setpoint. Those with hotspots or insufficient cooling can start with low-cost remedies like blanking panels and grommets. Close-coupled cooling and containment strategies are especially relevant, as server exhaust air, so often the cause of thermal challenges, is isolated and prohibited from entering the cold aisle.

With airflow addressed, users can focus on finding their "sweet spot" - the ideal temperature setting which aligns with business requirements and improves energy efficiency. Finding it requires proactive measurement and analysis. But the rewards - smaller energy bills, improved carbon footprints and a message of corporate responsibility - are well worth the effort.

About 42U

Since 1995, 42U has been a leader in providing data center efficiency solutions for data center and facilities managers. Our vendor and technology agnostic approach leverages our best-practice expertise in monitoring, airflow analysis, power, measurement, cooling, and best-of-breed efficiency technologies to help data center managers improve energy efficiency, reducing power consumption and subsequently lowering energy costs.

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