Microsoft, Oracle and Intel all agree — data centers can run hotter than most people think they can.
And that means using outside air to cool them isn’t as crazy an idea as it used to seem, representatives from the three IT giants said Thursday at the Teledata Technology Convergence Conference in Santa Clara, Calif.
Temperature is a hot topic for data center operators, since cooling systems can make up a large share of capital and operating costs. More and more data centers are trying to cut energy costs in the face of what’s expected to be overwhelming growth in their thirst for power (see Data Centers Could Hit 'Resource Crisis').
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) did raise its temperature guidelines for data center equipment last year, giving servers a temperature range of up to 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than the 77 degrees it had set in 2004.
But Microsoft, for one, is demanding in its procurements that servers run at temperatures as high as 95 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s what Christian Belady, Microsoft’s Principal Power and Cooling Architect, told an audience of data center aficionados.
“You may have a slightly higher failure rate??? at those higher temperature, he said. “But I challenge any vendor to tell us what that failure rate will be.???
Raising the acceptable temperatures inside data centers opens up the possibility of “air economization??? — in other words, using outside air without air conditioning.
Bradley Ellison, IT Infrastructure Manager for Intel, said the company recently finished a nine-month test of a New Mexico data center that used an "air economizer" system — one that drew in outside air as hot as 90 degrees Fahrenheit and shifted to air conditioning only when the air exceeded that temperature.
"This will not work everywhere," he said. "But we did not experience any equipment failures by going to outside air."
But try telling that to data center customers, said Mukesh Khattar, global director of energy efficiency for Oracle.
“We have users who balk at the idea that you’re trying to run those systems beyond??? ASHRAE specifications, he said. “The very first failure that happens, they’ll come right after you.???
Not only that, but some data center designers will refuse to leave out cooling systems, he said.
“So we said, you install a $5 million chiller plant that will not be operated, and because we have a chiller plant we have to exercise it form time to time — all kinds of issues are coming up,??? he said.