Hotter Data Centres Need To Find Tougher Kit

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Hotter data centres waste less energy but we need vendors to support higher temperature tolerance in their hardware, says Peter Judge

Data centres will get hotter. There is no doubt about that. It’s the best way to reduce the energy they burn.

That sounds wrong of course. But servers and other IT equipment inevitably make heat, and the majority of existing data centres still use more energy trying to bring the temperature back down.

Hot server action

Turning off the cooling systems, and allowing the temperature to go up is the best way to save energy… as long as the equipment can take it. I expect to see plenty of hot, throbbing servers at the Data Centre World event in London, which starts today (Wednesday).

Equipment vendors have been reluctant to move on this issue. The American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), whose specifications are widely used in data centres has proposed raising their temperatures, but for this to work, vendors have to provide kit that is guaranteed to work in the new temperature ranges.

Dell is leading the way here, announcing a strategy for hotter equipment last July, and following it up by making the higher operating temperature a major feature of this week’s “12th-Generation” server launch. At the moment, these servers are rated to survive at 25°C (80°F) but the Dell machines can be run at up to 45°C (113°F), albeit for limited periods.

There is still some way to go. Since server rooms also contain networking and storage kit, it is obvious that hardening servers alone is not enough.

Dell’s original announcement promised that its storage and switches would also be certified for higher temperatures – and these are the standard models, not some specialised high-temperature variant. However, Dell spokespeople admitted that the heat-tolerant servers were ahead of their switch and storage brethren.

A report from 451 Research has recognised Dell’s achievements but criticised vendors for not going further in supporting higher temperature usage.

“Armed with specific information on hardware performance at higher temperatures, more facilities may have the confidence to cut back on unnecessary cooling,” said the 451 report. “But suppliers also need to be persuaded it is in their interests to publish what many perceive as proprietary and confidential performance data – data center operators need to convince suppliers there is a real market need for this information.”

The next priority is to get all the vendors in line, and modifying the different equipment categories to run warmer is obviously a key step. Otherwise one can envisage a whole data centre cooled to 25°C because of a rack of, say, Oracle/Sun machines, or a set of storage racks that aren’t rated for higher temperature.

And, as ever, the key to it all is information. Users need to demand it, and vendors must provide it.

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