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Stretching the Data Center

Data centers are the un-sung heroes of the IT world.

A number of companies pushed off addressing facilities limitations during 2008 & 2009 for budgetary reasons. Now, some facilities are reaching their design limits.

When data centers are designed, the basic questions are how large (square footage), how many watts/square foot (driving power and cooling) and what Tier (defined by organizations like the Uptime Institute and ANSI/TIA 942) see vastly simplified table:

When these design limits are reached, large infrastructure expenditures or cloud-sourcing may be indicated. The resourceful data center manager needs to look at short and long term strategies and alternatives.

One alternative is raising the temperature of the data center. While counterintuitive, today’s equipment can operate at significantly higher temperatures. The ANSI/TIA standard calls for air intake temperature as high as 81 degrees F.

Hot aisle/cold aisle is a key way to maximize efficiency. The cold aisle is maintained at 81, and the hot aisle is, well, hot. Temperatures over 100 degrees F are acceptable.

While not recommended, we know of two companies where the server racks were “spun” 180 degrees with the IT equipment running. Professional millrights were used, and they expertly raised racks, did the spin, and replaced all while a data center technician kept strain off cables. Obviously an extreme approach!

Hot Aisle/Cold aisle containment is also an option. There are elaborate systems for containment, and simpler systems (using the area above the drop ceiling as a return air plenum.

Raised (access) floor systems used for cooling should have all penetrations closed when not used for cooling, and all racks should have blanking systems in place.

http://upsitetechnologies.com/ and http://www.snaketray.com/snaketray_airflowsolutions.html are typical companies offering solutions in this space.

When spot cooling is needed, there are above rack cooling options, and fan options. Here’s one we’ve seen effectively cool a 200 WSF load in a designed 50 WSF data center

From http://www.adaptivcool.com/

We recently were in a facility where the temperature was set to 60 degrees to provide “spot” cooling for an individual rack. This is a very expensive approach for spot cooling.

Another options used to address simple hot spots is increasing the speed on air handlers. The newest air handlers are variable speed. On some older systems, a change in the fan speed may be sufficient to address the air flow needs.

Other companies are taking an all together different approach. By using rack mounted blade servers and a virtualized environment, the overall power and space used in a data center can actually be reduced! Here’s a case where a technology refresh may be the smarter option than a facilities investment.

Every company has unique challenges and one short post cannot address every alternative. The smart data center manager takes the time to understand the root cause of their issues, and through a careful, thoughtful, measured approach can make changes extending the effective lifespan of the data center. And always consult others including MEP engineering firms or strategic IT consulting firms for best practices in your specific environment.

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