Data centers are gathering a lot of attention lately as they are being expected to fulfill more demands than ever, but must find ways to do so while conserving energy. As an enterprise that consumes a lot of power in order to function, this has forced many operators to reconsider their resources and develop strategies to use them more effectively. While some organizations are turning to green initiatives, this may not be fully feasible for everyone. However, one thing that most data centers can work to improve is their heating and cooling systems. In an environment where equipment is essential to operations, the storage conditions are critical. For this reason, data center managers must determine how to use their heating and cooling setup to their advantage.
Energy hog turning power conservator
As more devices seek to connect to the Internet and service providers look to give users reliable solutions, data centers are under pressure to perform. In many cases, these mounting needs are expected to require more power to function optimally, leading away from much of the power usage efficiency efforts that operators have been working toward. According to EnterpriseTech, simply decreasing the amount of energy used for various processes w
ill not be enough with the increasing number of activities put on data center servers. Operators will instead have to take bigger initiatives to make any significant changes to their power use.
Facebook, for example, has taken numerous steps to leverage the resources available to their facilities. Free air cooling from the natural environment of their site was a significant consideration for where they decided to locate. This technique was then planned into the building and operation of the data center itself, ensuring that they will get the best result from using this strategy.
“Even the most basic steps for improving energy efficiency are sometimes not yet taken,” industry expert Bob Landstrom told EnterpriseTech. “There is ground to be gained here through education, energy assessments, investment in energy efficiency improvements, or a move to a commercial data center operator who has an established pedigree in energy efficient operations.”
Review all cooling options
If a data center is unable to leverage an area’s natural resources, there are other methods they can use to optimize their cooling practices for lower overall energy consumption. TechTarget contributor Robert McFarlane noted that cooling containment in particular is something that many data center operators can utilize. This approach is reminiscent of hot and cool aisles, as it separates cool inlet air from hot discharge air. Cooling containment means that the system will not have to work as hard to maintain temperatures, effectively reducing power needs.
However, this type of setup will require additional planning and considerations in order to deploy successfully. McFarlane suggests closing gaps between cabinets and blocking unused rack spaces. The cabinets should be planned front-to-front and back-to-back to alternate aisles of cool air and areas with exhaust. As long as the zones are separated, the data center will be able to optimize their air.
“Containment involves erecting barriers – curtains, blanking panels, walls or other designs – to keep the zones separated,” McFarlane stated. “The achievable level of cooling containment depends on budget, facility design and project planning stages.”
Heating needs matter too
While data center operators often hear a great deal about their cooling systems, they may not know that they can redirect the heat from the servers to other needs. Amazon’s offices and work areas in Seattle, for example, are heated from the waste heat of a nearby data center, according to Green Building Elements. This energy will also be used to heat water that will be recharged in the data center to help cool the facility. This type of hydronic heating initiative is a significant step toward improve data center energy usage and shows that excess heat can actually be used to benefit operations.
Amazon isn’t the only one in the area that may be interested in this heating system, however. The city is offering credits to facilities that contain similar setups, and more data centers in Seattle are turning to offer their heat for these needs.
According to Green Building Elements, Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien sees “this project as a first step toward what I hope to be a district wide energy system, that we can build off this as a catalyst.”