Top 7 Reasons Data Centers Don’t Raise Their Thermostats

Here we are in 2013 and very few data centers are even raising their thermostats to the recommended limits prescribed by ASHRAE’s 2008 guidance. Raising the thermostat is the single most simple energy saving move a data center can make, so why is it that they are so hesitant to do so? Ron Vokoun of JE Dunn explores the top answers from industry professionals.

DBIA, LEED AP BD+C, leads the Mission Critical Market for at JE Dunn Construction. You can find him on Twitter at @RonVokoun.

Ron Vokoun, GrayRON VOKOUN
JE Dunn

In 2011, it was with great fanfare that ASHRAE released its updated Thermal Guidelines for Data Processing Environments – Expanded Data Center Classes and Usage Guidance. The new guidelines created new classes of equipment ratings and corresponding wider ranges of operating conditions. Yet, here we are in 2013 and very few data centers are even raising their thermostats to the recommended limits prescribed by ASHRAE’s 2008 guidance.

Raising the thermostat is the single most simple energy saving move a data center can make, so why is it that they are so hesitant to do so? Generally speaking, raising the temperature setting 1.8°F (1°C) will save two to four percent on the overall energy use of a data center. What a great ROI for a simple flick of a switch!

As I often do when I have a question, I took to Twitter to find answers, or at least opinions. Specifically, I engaged Mark Thiele of Switch, Jan Wiersma of Data Center Pulse, Tim Crawford of AVOA, and Bill Dougherty of RagingWire in what became a spirited exchange of reasons why temperatures largely remain unchanged.

Without further ado, and with my apologies to David Letterman, I give you:

The Top 7 Reasons Why Data Centers Don’t Raise Their Thermostats

7. Some HVAC Equipment Can’t Handle Higher Return Air Temperatures

I will confess that I am not an engineer, but this one doesn’t make sense to me. I have been told by engineers in the past that the higher the return air temperature, the more efficient the system will be. I would be interested in hearing opinions, but until convinced otherwise, I’m going to call this one bunk.

6. Colocation Data Centers Have To Be All Things To All People

This one makes sense to me. Colocation providers can’t choose their customers, but rather they compete for them. If they have a potential customer that feels uncomfortable with the warmer temperatures, they will lose them to one of their competitors that keeps their data center unnecessarily cool. They also have to plan for the lowest common denominator in that many customers are still using legacy equipment that doesn’t fit into the ASHRAE standard classifications.

This makes me wonder if there might be the potential for a new colocation product. Given the energy savings, perhaps physically separated sections of the data center can be offered at a discounted rate in exchange for agreeing to operate at a higher temperature? This could be an attractive cost savings for a few enlightened souls.

5. Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt (FUD)/Ignorance

This one is very widespread throughout the industry. I am told that most colocation RFP’s from CIO’s specify 70°F (21°C). The industry is full of sayings like,” Nobody ever got fired for keeping a data center cold.” That may change if the CFO finds out how much money he can save by raising the temperature!

4. Intolerable Work Environment

I can say with confidence that I would not enjoy working in a hot aisle that’s reaching temperatures up to 115°F (46°C). With that said, construction workers in Arizona work in that heat every day during the summer. I’ll leave it to OSHA to say what’s appropriate here in the U.S. Jan Wiersma, who lives and works in Europe, informed me that the EU has a reasonable law for working in the hot aisle, so it can be done.

3. Cultural Norms and Inertia

I’ve always hated hearing,” Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” But, for legacy data centers, this is often the case. A more reasonable excuse that also fits into this category is that it’s probably nearly impossible to change an SLA without opening up all of the other terms to renegotiation.

2. Concern Over Higher Failure Rates and Performance Issues

The good folks at the Green Grid have debunked this one adequately already. A presentation at the Uptime Institute Symposium earlier this year from representatives of ASHRAE’s TC 9.9 agreed. A good qualification that Mark pointed out is that consistent environmental conditions are important to realizing lower failure rates.

And the number one reason why data centers don’t raise their thermostats (drum roll please)…

1. Thermal Ride-Through Time

If a data center has an outage of some sort, having an environment with a lower temperature will provide a longer thermal ride-through time. This is magnified in a containerized data center solution where the total volume of conditioned air is very limited in comparison to a more traditional open data center.

It seems there are very few good reasons why you should not raise the temperature in your data center, at least a bit. At the end of the day, you need to understand your business and the risks associated with its’ data center operations and make an informed decision. If your analysis indicates you can, flip that thermostat up a bit higher and enjoy the money you save as a result.

Many thanks to Mark, Jan, Tim, and Bill for sharing their wisdom on Twitter! I highly recommend following them if you don’t already.

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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