Data Centre Managers Warned On Cooling Regulations

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Around 2,500 UK cooling companies are trading illegally, as fluorinated gases contribute to the greenhouse effect

IT and data centre managers are being urged to check whether their air conditioning equipment installers are compliant with the EU’s current Fluorinated Gas regulations (F-GAS), which are designed to minimise environmental damage from refrigerant gases.

Fluorinated gases (F gases) are powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming if released into the atmosphere. Their effect can be much greater than carbon dioxide. F gases currently make up about 2 percent of the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are the most common type of F gases and are mainly used as the refrigerant in air conditioning and commercial refrigeration systems. A comprehensive EU F gas regulatory framework has already been fully implemented in the UK, which is expected to significantly reduce UK HFC emissions over the next 20 years.

Half of air-con installers unqualified

To comply with F-GAS, all personnel involved in refrigerant gas installation, maintenance, servicing, checking and recovery needed to obtain “next stage” UK F-GAS qualifications by 4 July 2011. Installers are also required to test regularly for leaks and log all equipment usage and repairs.

However, according to F-GAS Support – the body set up by the British government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to provide guidance for companies to achieve F-GAS certification – over 50 percent of UK air conditioning companies have still not obtained full certification.

This leaves around 2,500 companies trading illegally and, according to data centre infrastructure specialist on365, data centre managers who are currently testing or upgrading their air conditioning equipment need to be particularly rigorous in checking that their installers are fully qualified.

“IT professionals should ensure they are working with suppliers who have full certification for the installation operations,” said Chris Smith, sales and marketing director for on365. “Companies that employ non-certified installers may invalidate their own cooling infrastructure’s certification under growing regulation of data centre power and cooling infrastructures.”

Alternative data centre cooling

Besides increasing the concentration of HFCs in the atmosphere, data centre cooling equipment is traditionally the biggest consumer of power in the data centre, making its negative impact on the environment two-fold.

As a result, many data centre managers are now looking at ways to reduce their refrigeration needs, or get rid of them all together with so-called ‘free air cooling’ – using outside air to cool servers instead of running chillers. Yorkshire Water announced only last week that its new free air-cooled data centre in Bradford will help it save 31 tonnes of carbon per year, resulting in cost savings of £90,000.

The Dumfries and Galloway local authority also recently announced a new facility that will use outside air to cool the servers for six months of the year. IBM estimates that this should equate to around a 25 to 30 percent energy saving, because of the reduced need for air conditioning, and will save the council around £20,000 per annum.

Other companies are looking at evaporative cooling, which uses the drop in temperature that occurs when water that has been exposed to moving air begins to vaporise and change to gas – also known as the ‘wet t-shirt effect”. EcoCooling claims its evaporative cooling system uses 90 percent less energy than traditional refrigeration units, while keeping the IT equipment at a constant temperature.

Meanwhile ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, is relaxing its advice about data centre temperature. In the forthcoming third edition of its Thermal Guidelines for Data Processing Environments, ASHRAE will give data centre managers more scope for energy efficiency, by extending the recommended temperature ranges for IT equipment.

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