2010: Pushing Boundaries in the Data Center

We continue with 2010: Data Center Year in Review:

2. Pushing Boundaries in the Data Center Environment

The pursuit of energy efficiency has led data center designers and managers to challenge many long-held practices about the environments in which servers can operate reliably. In 2010 this led to new facilities that embraced broader envelopes for temperature and humidity in server rooms, which allowed them to wean their data centers from reliance on energy-intensive chillers and use fresh air in cooling systems (economization).

"I’m hearing more and more discussion about folks running at higher temperatures, with 81 degrees F being a common set point," said Hamilton. "Even as high as 95F has been claimed. Two years ago all the discussion was about why this wouldn’t work, wasn’t a good idea, and could actually lead to higher power consumption. Now we’re seeing broader deployment and PUEs are plummeting.

"The same is true on air-side economization," Hamilton continued. "It has gone from a curiosity implemented by a hardy few to a broadly deployed technique that really doesn’t generate much comment at this point. PUEs in new centers with aggressive air-side economization are uniformly under 1.35 and many are credibly below 1.2."

"Economization is here to stay, both liquid and air," agreed Belady. "All of the major online businesses have committed to this as their strategy with most having projects completed this year or in flight. As an example, Microsoft uses almost exclusively outside air in the Dublin facility and many of our new facilities are or will be doing the same. Even server OEMs have and/or will be announcing products for airside economization. Clearly this has been driven by the desire to drive down PUE and total cost of ownership while also improving sustainability."

While some projects are replacing chillers with air-cooling, others are using nature, tapping adjacent bodies of water or underground lakes for chilled water.

"On water cooling, we see some progress as well with another high-scale, water cooled facility announced," said Hamilton. "Water is a far more efficient fluid to move than air so these systems are producing interesting efficiency results. Regulatory challenges remain but I expect we’ll see this cooling approach becoming more common."

Mares thinks new data center projects will continue to push boundaries. "Concepts like chiller-less designs, 100% water economization, UPS-less and even generator-less data centers are beginning to be considered by traditional high-reliability data center users in order to improve energy efficiency and reduce upfront and ongoing costs," he said.

NEXT: Modular Data Centers Gain Traction