CFD Thermal Modeling: Who's Using It, and How?

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One of the cool technologies in use in some data centers is thermal modeling using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD),  a tool for analyzing the effectiveness of cooling within the racks and aisles. The 3D visualizations of a data center are visually striking, but can also save data center operators large sums of money by identifying areas where cold air is not reaching equipment or is mixing with hot air. 

Since cooling can represent 40 percent of energy usage in some data centers, the savings from a CFD analysis can be significant. But so can the up-front cost, which is a challenge in technology adoption.

Customers of CFD modeling fall into three primary categories, according to Sherman Ikemoto, General Manager, North America for Future Facilities,  a UK-based company that specializes in CFD tools:

  • Hardware manufacturers such as Dell, IBM, Verari Systems and Cisco, who use Future Facilities’ 6Sigma software to understand the thermal profile of their equipment.
  • Building services firms such as EYP Mission Critical Facilities (now part of HP) and BrunsPak, who use CFD modeling to perfect air flow in their data center designs before starting construction.
  • Data center operators who use 6Sigma and other CFD to trouble-shoot existing facilities to track airflow changes as more racks and cabinets are added to a data center.

Among companies operating data centers, use of CFD is concentrated in banks and brokerages. “We are mainly strong in the financial sector,” said Ikemoto. “They seem to have the top mission-critical facilities, and they’re constantly upgrading their facilities. They see their data center as a necessity, not as overhead.”  

Future Facilities has developed the Virtual Facility, a detailed 3D model that can be used to simulate airflow in a test design, or to create a “digital clone” of an existing data center to analyze its data center cooling efficiency. The technology is packaged as 6Sigma Room, which is typically used to build a model of a data center design prior to implementation, and 6Sigma Manager, which helps data center operators track changes in their environment, and features energy profiles for many manufacturers’  hardware.

Future Facilities has used its CFD technology to create virtual facilities for 120 vustomers since 2004, including numerous banks. Ikemoto said the company’s CFD technology may become more accessible beyond the financial services niche as it partners with engineering and design firms.

One of the companies Future Facilities is working with is SynapSense, which makes wirless sensors for data centers to monitor energy usage and heat. “We think it’s a good fit between our technologies,” said Ikemoto. “If you see something wrong with the sensors, you can go to a virtual facility to figure it out. We’re working with SynapSense to marry the technologies.”

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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