Experts: Warmer Data Center Temperatures Are Safe
The insatiable appetite of energy-hungry computing equipment is changing the way facility managers think about temperature in the data center. While some trust neither old nor new computers to run in hotter environments, many others are taking advantage of new standards allowing more heat at the server. Moreover, some facilities are using cutting-edge technology to cool their data centers.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 2.2 percent of the country's energy consumption is related to data centers. Data centers continue to grow in size and density, and to require even more power, for both computing and cooling. Meanwhile, the cost of energy continues to rise.
Therefore, it is not surprising that facility managers want to save money by raising operating temperatures in the data center, and that engineers are working on more sophisticated technologies for both computers and cooling equipment in data centers.
IT equipment manufacturers have responded with "more energy efficient boxes," says Mark Evanko, principal engineer at BRUNS-PAK, "which can operate at higher temperatures." Some tech companies are giving clients the option to buy equipment that can operate in the 90 F inlet temperature range or higher. "You can order a [server] with a higher rating of operation," Evanko says, "but you have to pay a premium." For large data centers, especially if they are located in places like Long Island, New York, or Washington, D.C., where energy costs are very high, the new equipment will be cost-effective.
In the early days of data centers, computer equipment was kept at very cool temperatures — from 68 F to 70 F. These temperatures were mandated by computer manufacturers, who would not guarantee their equipment at higher temperatures. Things began to change when the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) was able to come to an agreement with the original equipment manufacturers about acceptable temperatures in the data center. According to Don Beaty, president of DLB Associates, ASHRAE technical committee 9.9 (TC 9.9), of which he was a co-founder, published "Thermal Guidelines for Data Processing Environments" in 2004, which put recommended ranges for temperature in the data center between 68 F and 77 F. In 2008, the guidelines were updated to recommend an even wider temperature band — from 64.4 F to 80.6 F.
"What is so powerful about these new recommended ranges is that they apply to legacy IT equipment," says Beaty. Legacy data centers are older data centers running older computer equipment. "This means that the operational temperature of existing data centers can potentially be changed," says Beaty, "although it needs to be done incrementally and carefully."
In a recent publication by Mortenson, titled "Mission Critical Industry and Construction Trends," which summarized feedback from participants at a 2011 Exchange Conference, 70 percent of respondents cited more equipment or data centers that can operate at higher temperatures as a future trend.