Stay cool, keep fresh

Despite its title, this article is not a tribute to a popular 70’s disco band, rather recent announcements made by Dell that will enable customers to drive efficiency in power consumption and cooling.

It may be apparent that capital expenses of data centers and IT hardware are lower than the operational expenses of data center facilities including the energy bills. According to sources like Gartner and The Uptime Institute, data center energy consumption doubled from 2000 to 2006 and facilities costs are estimated to be growing at 20% annually compared to overall IT spend of 6%.

These are some interesting figures; concerning but interesting. In a world that is desperate for consciousness of the environment, we ought to be embracing any technology advancement that allows for lower overall power consumption in the data center.

Let’s have a look at what drives energy consumption in the classic data center. A typical temperature threshold to date is about 27°C / 80°F, assuming the data center stays within the ASHRAE recommended window of operation. To maintain these temperatures, classic data centers operate on chillers or some other form of cooling. Unfortunately, chillers also put out additional heat while consuming power, driving up energy bills even more.

The obvious opportunity for efficiency improvement along with innovation leads large data center operators to operate without chillers by building their data centers in locations with a year-round outside temperature below 27°C / 80°F. Places like northern Canada, Alaska or northern Europe are ideal and can decrease energy costs when chillers don’t have to run 24×7. Instead, fresh air is circulated through the data centers as a method of cooling.

Interesting idea, right? There is, of course, the limitation of maximum ambient temperature as defined in IT hardware specifications. The ambient can actually be as high as 35°C / 95°F as opposed to 27°C / 80°F, allowing an even wider area of deployment. The images above illustrate in dark blue colors where chiller -less data centers can be deployed.

Still, the possible locations for chiller-less data centers were quite limited and so here’s where a couple of Dell’s finest engineers got to work. The results are a selection of server configurations that not only run at temperatures above 35°C / 95°F, but their warranty will not be affected as long as the server temperatures remain between:

  • 5°C  and 4°C at 5-85% Relative Humidity for a maximum of 10% of the yearly hours
  • -5°C  and 45°C at 5-90% Relative Humidity for a maximum of 1% of the yearly hours

The renewed specifications of Dell servers now allow data centers to run without chillers in a lot more locations around the world as illustrated in the images below The dark blue areas represent possible locations for chiller-less data centers.

The reasons why we’re excited about the technology may be obvious. First of all, the technology benefits the environment by consuming less power to cool. Second, customers can benefit from the cost savings associated with less power consumption. And third, currently the EU Code of Conduct recommends an ETSI 3.1 (Standard for climatic limits for normal and exceptional operating conditions, matching the Dell renewed temperature specifications) and fresh air cooling. However, ETSI 3.1 may become an EU requirement in 2012 and Dell has this capability today.

Dell OEM Solutions has a long-standing history of focusing on OEM customers, helping them to deliver market-leading products to their end-customers ahead of their competition by supporting them with common-of-the-shelf (COTS), standards-based technology while offering engineering and customization services where required.

Besides driving efficiency in the data center, the renewed temperature specification of Dell enterprise products may also meet some requirements for bespoke markets and applications. This creates opportunities for OEM customers to replace costly proprietary embedded hardware, developed for operation in a wider ambient temperature range, with COTS hardware from Dell, including storage products, networking products and peripherals.

About the Author: Marcel Moelands