Data Centers Moving to “Sweat” Shops

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What is really happening in the greening of the data center? We are not seeing orders of magnitude reduction of power consumption. We are not seeing the use of cleaner power plants.

Evidently, engineers and other individuals working at Data Centers (DCs) will be increasingly making wardrobe changes from light jackets and slacks to shorts and sleeveless shirts. The expectation is that the standard operating mode for many DCs will be as high as 90 degrees Fahrenheit. At least one major components vendor is working on chip sets, which will work more effectively under such conditions and actually, the permitted temperature for a server can normally reach 90°F (although it is usually advocated not to go beyond 77°F).

Obviously, in moving in this direction, the cost of cooling a DC can come down substantially. However, what is not as recognizable is the extremely high cost of having all of that cooling on motor generator backup, which uses an awful lot of energy.

For many operators of DCs, it will be a process of gradually becoming comfortable with the idea of higher temperatures. The critical factor will be achieving the right balance between saving energy costs and the risks to the IT equipment.

Of course, there have been all kinds of efforts to reduce the power footprint in the DC environment including the movement away from physical equipment to virtualization, continually replacing hardware with the latest generation (which offers improved performance), as well as the use of raised floors, heat containment systems, highly filtrated air, and temperature controls. Nevertheless, the potential for decreasing power usage by “orders of magnitude” as well as the utilization of “cleaner plants” in a big way will probably be pipe dreams for an extremely long time.

Examples of firms that have come the closest to such a vision are large enterprises with their own massive data centers practically in the middle of nowhere, sometimes getting their electricity from hydroelectric damns as well as often taking advantage of outside air cooling. Although it might seem counterintuitive, highly dense solutions can be counterproductive in these situations because they are so hard to cool. These companies would rather employ additional low-cost square footage in exchange for getting solutions that are easy to cool.

[written by Mark Lutkowitz]