The Data Center Temperature Debate

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Jason Friedler is Head of Hosting, Telstra International and works within Telstra’s Product Management area.

Jason FriedlerJASON FRIEDLER
Telstra International

In 2010, the energy consumption of the data center industry has continued to climb the political and financial agendas. Tightened budgets mean that companies around the world are looking to reduce energy costs, while the regulatory environment is evolving to a state whereby heavy emitters could be penalized financially.

This has already happened in the UK, where the mandatory CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme was formally established in April of this year, and there is a genuine concern that the industry could be put under pressure from enforced government legislation in other parts of the world.

There has been complex and overlapping advice from all sides on how these pressures can be alleviated, which has meant one of the simplest methods to reduce power consumption has been all but completely drowned out: reducing data center cooling.

The majority of data centres around the world are cooled to approximately 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) yet both data center providers and manufacturers (such as HP, IBM and Sun Microsystems) all state that server equipment will function perfectly at 80 degrees, if not higher. An estimated four percent reduction in energy costs can be gained for every degree of upward change in temperature – a significant saving both in costs and carbon emissions.

However, with reliability and availability still the key concerns for IT managers, many hosting customers are still looking to err on the side of caution and maintain the status quo in terms of the temperature of their racks.

Customer concern
Continued financial pressures on CIOs and CFOs mean our customers are unsurprisingly keen to discuss methods through which we can help them reduce energy costs. But on the subject of data center temperature, a variety of concerns linger.

Many customers of managed hosting providers, for example, are reluctant to alter agreed SLAs, often a necessity if the cooling is to be reduced. But, the biggest and most common concern is often the notion that increases in temperature will affect overall reliability. This varies from the effect on server recovery time, to how potential increases in humidity would lead to greater condensation levels. There are also concerns of whether costs from equipment downtime caused by this will offset the cost savings from reduced cooling.

Of course, the biggest mitigating factor in this is the hardware the customer is using, and it is hardware vendors’ warranties that are the biggest means to allay these customer fears. Generally speaking, modern data center equipment comes with guarantees of continuous functionality at temperatures ranging from 78 degrees Fahrenheit to as high as 95 degrees.

It will only be through a unified educational program – from data center operators, hardware vendors and industry bodies alike – that the fears of end-user companies can be allayed. The industry has a responsibility to minimize its energy consumption, and self-governance in this manner will reduce the ever-present risk of enforced legislation.

Unified argument
Although never articulated by an industry body, the “the cooler is better” data center paradigm seems hard to shake for the majority of customers.

The problem up until now is that messaging in this area has not been consistent. Understandably, vendors’ communication in this area has been focused on their own specific products – there has never been a sustained industry effort to promote the benefits, both in terms of carbon emissions as well as cost savings.

A greater debate needs to take place. The industry as a whole needs to work together in order to reduce our energy consumption, and a centralized campaign on data center temperature could be one of the most effective means to achieve this.

There are however, encouraging signs of more unified efforts to reduce the industry’s energy consumption. For example, the recent landmark agreement between the Green Grid, EU Code of Conduct, and governmental organisations in the US and Japan on the guiding principles of data centre energy efficiency metrics, shows the potential for international cooperation, with an ultimate goal of creating a set of globally accepted metrics. It is through independent organizations such as these that the message will best reach end-user companies.

Through greater collaboration and a more sustained educational push, the industry can reduce both the internal and external pressures to reduce energy consumption; raising data center temperature norms around the globe would be a great place to start.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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