Is Your Data Center Ready for the Polar Vortex?

Design With Personnel In Mind

Crosby says there are human factors that must be considered in designing for areas that may experience cold weather.

” The ergonomics aspect is oftentimes overlooked. ” said Crosby. “Have plenty of storage space for salt, and use stairwells instead of ladders. Keep the people inside enclosures at a warm level. You’ve got to take account of the human condition. It’s not cool being outside for extended periods in sub zero temperatures.”

“How do you deal with things like ladders?,” Crosby said. “In Minnesota, we use stairs instead of ladders to get from the lower roof to the higher one because the ladder can ice over. For most designs, we consider climate as part of the local adaptation. You need to worry about snow loads for drifts. If you have these large hanging loads, but you haven’t planned, it causes structural issues.”

Employee Access and Logistics

Can staff make it into the data center if roads are closed, or when travel becomes dangerous? It’s important to have provisions at the data center, and to make sure the 24×7 staff can stay at the facility for long periods, in case others can’t make it in. Workers also need proper protective gear.

“A simple yet underappreciated factor to operating a data center in severe cold is basic staffing logistics,” said Spencer. “Pre-deploying staff and supplies as the forecast calls for weather has been a useful tool. With a 24/7 facility, you need a contingency plan for staff who cannot come and go. Customers, especially with data centers in the suburbs versus downtown locations, will take longer to dig out after adverse weather and don’t have easy access to the same amenities.  Customers expect assurance that their critical systems are stable and may need remote hands services. We have contingency plans in place to assure we can provide that.”

“Because several pieces of equipment are housed outside, employees working on these solutions will need to bundle up, to ensure their own safety,” said Cooper. “Additionally, the lower temperatures generally cause maintenance to take longer: personnel are not as effective as they would be in the summer (require indoor breaks to stay warm, numb and slow hand), and equipment is slippery and more difficult to work on. Personnel should make sure they have appropriate protection for working outside in colder temperatures, including heavy coats and gloves.”

Facility Preparations

Here’s a checklist of steps to prepare and maintain a facility in cold weather:

  • Ensure remote monitoring panels are verified and all alarms are tested and working so you know right away if a generator block heater is defective or nonfunctional.
  •  Increase rounds on outside equipment
  • Ensure temperature probes are calibrated correctly
  • Watch weather forecasts often and abort or postpone maintenances in inclement weather
  • Ensure 24/7 access to equipment by preparing for cleaning/shoveling
  • Ensure backup battery start equipment is ready and available
  • De-icing products are sufficiently stored
  • Have critical parts on hand for Generators, UPSs, HVAC items, etc .in case there is a lengthy weather system.
  • Salt is corrosive. Keep this in mind.

Components at Risk

  • Generators: do you have additives in the fuel to protect against the weather? Do generators have functioning block heaters? “We store 24 hours of fuel per generator, that last 48 hours per pod,” said Crosby. “I’m not a fan of more than that in colder environments. Less is more.” “We ensure the right type and mixture of diesel fuel is in the tanks to prevent jelling or crystallization,” said Spencer.
  • Fuel: Speaking of fuel, can fuel providers make it to your data center given weather and road conditions? “Fuel freezing is a very real thing,” said Crosby, CEO Compass. “A very cold spell puts a lot of pressure on the power clients. If you’re in a peak area, and that generator  needs to start – cold doesn’t help.
  • Air/Water economization equipment: There’s been a big trend of data centers going to colder climates to take advantage of the cost savings. However, extreme cold limits economizer usage.
  • Water: For those that keep retention storage of water for chillers and cooling, is the water frozen?

“Cooling towers, air conditioning units and generators are the main components of the data center affected by adverse weather conditions,” said Cooper. “If not well sealed, air conditioning units can allow snow into the facility, while water lines located inside walls, which are often ignored, can freeze and break without proper maintenance.”

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About the Author

Jason Verge is an Editor/Industry Analyst on the Data Center Knowledge team with a strong background in the data center and Web hosting industries. In the past he’s covered all things Internet Infrastructure, including cloud (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS), mass market hosting, managed hosting, enterprise IT spending trends and M&A. He writes about a range of topics at DCK, with an emphasis on cloud hosting.

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One Comment

  1. To guarantee the data center works correctly during freezing months, it’s best to get ready in the summer and fall. The saying “better late than never,” certainly applies if you’re having problems this winter. Thanks for the interesting read Jason.