Vendors Are Blocking Data Centre Energy Cuts

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Data centres could run hotter and save energy, if vendors published accurate product information, a report says

Data centre operators need more help from equipment manufacturers to save energy by running equipment at higher temperatures, according to a 451 Group report.

Increasing the operating temperature in server racks helps cut cooling costs, which currently account for up to 70 percent of expenditure in data centres, but equipment makers are not giving data centre owners all the information they need, says the report .

Some like it hot

The report likens the challenge of cooling date centres to “using a room full of air conditioner to cool a room full of fan heaters,” a process it deems as “difficult, expensive and inefficient.”

The current maximum operating temperature recommended by  standards group ASHRAE is 27C or 80.6F. Evidence suggests that facilities could operate at up to 113F (45C) without damaging equipment, but this would render equipment warranties void, as manufacturers specify a conservative operating temperature for the products.

Earlier this year, Dell announced that it had increased the upper temperature limits for some its equipment, so data centres can operate the kit at higher temperatures- albeit only for limited periods of 900 hours per year at 40C and 90 hours per year at 45C. Despite these caveats, Dell is ahead of other vendors in offering to support equipment at higher temperatures.

If ASHRAE were to increase its recommended temperature, it could result in significant savings on existing cooling equipment and cut expenditure on new technology. Data centres in cooler climates would be more likely to be able to dispense with air-conditioning units altogether.

There are concerns that although raising the temperature would reduce the energy used on cooling, it could increase the power used by fans within a server which turn on automatically at higher temperatures.

Ultimately, the report states that the real obstacle has been the reluctance of many server, storage and networking suppliers other than Dell to provide detailed information about how performance changes with increases in humidity and temperature.

Without this, many data centre operators are unwilling to risk equipment failure even though an Intel study conducted in 2008 suggested that the failure rate of a facility running at 35C was 4.5 percent, compared to one cooled at 20C, which had a slightly lower rate of 2.8 percent.

Cooperation needed

The 451 Group suggests that to overcome these barriers, ASHRAE should publish new recommended ranges to encourage suppliers to certify their equipment to run at higher temperatures and to release reliable operating figures, while data centre operators should pressure them into doing so.

“Armed with specific information on hardware performance at higher temperatures, more facilities may have the confidence to cut back on unnecessary cooling. But this won’t happen on a large scale unless suppliers publish more specific information on how temperature impacts IT performance,” stated the report, “But suppliers also need to be persuaded it is in their interests to publish what many perceive as proprietary and confidential performance data – datacenter operators need to convince suppliers there is a real market need for this information.”

It continued, “It will also require cooperation between IT and facilities teams within datacenter organizations. Both sides need to be equally invested in understanding the relationship between temperature, IT performance and energy costs.”

However if suppliers and operators remain unconvinced, one rather drastic solution could be to relocate to the periphery of the Arctic Circle so that servers can be cooled by the climate like Facebook has done with its new sustainable facility in northern Sweden.

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