Data centers are frequently accused of contributing to environmental pollution because they rely in many cases on "dirty" energy sources.
But it's not just the use of fossil fuels that can make data centers polluters. Data centers can cause noise pollution, too.
If you want to minimize data center pollution in all respects, then, you should invest in data center noise mitigation strategies that will make your data center a better neighbor to anyone within earshot. This article explains how to go about reducing data center noise, as well as why it's important.
What makes data centers loud?
The reason why data centers have a tendency to be loud is simple: The equipment inside them makes a lot of noise when it operates.
That equipment includes, in part, IT systems like servers. Although servers aren't typically very loud on an individual basis, hundreds of servers operating in a small space can create noise levels of up to 96 db(A).
At the same time, the ancillary equipment that data centers depend on, like the HVAC systems that cool servers or generators that serve as backup power sources, add to the noise. These systems can be especially noisy on the outside of a data center, contributing to noise pollution in the neighborhoods where data centers are located.
Data centers have long been noisy places, but they're becoming even noisier as businesses find ways to pack ever-greater densities of equipment into data centers, and as they expand the power and cooling systems necessary to support that equipment.
Why does data center noise matter?
From an operational standpoint, the amount of noise that a data center makes doesn't matter much. Servers don't care how loud it gets.
However, the people who work in data centers, as well as those who live or work in the neighborhoods surrounding them, are affected by all of the noise. The 96 db(A)s produced by servers is enough to cause hearing loss in people who endure the noise levels for an extended period, which is bad news for those who work inside data centers. And listening to HVAC compressors or generators all day is not exactly pleasant for folks who live near data centers.
This means that any company that wants to be a good employer and a good neighbor should look for ways to reduce data center noise levels.
How to make your data center quieter
There are many ways to do so. Some noise-reduction methods for data centers are obvious and some are less so.
To start with the obvious, basic soundproofing measures can effectively reduce the amount of noise that data center equipment makes. For example, surrounding server racks with foam, sound deadening mats or rubberized coatings helps to cut back on noise levels inside data centers. You can also, of course, give data center personnel headphones or other simple equipment to reduce the noise they are exposed to.
Liquid cooling, a technique for dissipating heat from data center equipment that is growing in popularity, is another great way to reduce data center noise levels. Liquid cooling eliminates the many fans required to cool servers and other equipment the traditional way. It also happens to be more energy-efficient, making it a double win for businesses interested in reducing noise and increasing sustainability.
In cases where fans can't be avoided inside a data center, optimizing airflow can go far in reducing noise levels. The more easily air can flow across servers and other equipment, the less hard fans have to work, and the less noise they will make as a result.
If you really want to think outside the box about data center noise reduction, you could look into underwater data centers, which would solve noise pollution problems altogether. For now, underwater data centers are not yet practical – although Microsoft successfully piloted one in 2018 – but if it does become feasible to submerge your data center in water, that would almost certainly be the best way to keep it as quiet as possible.
Data centers are loud – louder than many folks appreciate – and noise pollution is a real issue for people both inside and outside of data center facilities.
The good news is that there are effective measures available for reducing data center noise levels. Immersion cooling is probably the best practical method available currently, but if you can't afford that technology, simpler measures like optimizing the airflow of fan-based cooling systems can significantly improve noise outcomes for data center equipment.