For the last 10 years server vendors have worked tirelessly to improve the power efficiency of their products – partially because of their Green aspirations, but as much because no one paid much attention to the amount of electricity being pumped into data centres before that. As the issue of power efficiency grew, so we began to understand that we spend as much energy cooling our equipment as we do to run it. In large facilities cooling is provided by chillers, which have high price tags along side their high operational costs. In fact the capital cost is almost always doubled due to the need for redundancy.

Vendors Addressing Energy Efficiency
While the design criteria for data centres is still almost always based on maximum performance per watt, vendors have introduced many innovative ways of reducing costs through the use of fresh air cooling, building in cooler climates and recycling heat. Design changes include IBM’s renewed research into water cooling, Fujitsu’s use of rack chimneys or Dell’s custom designs which replace individual server-level fans with rack-level ones.

Reducing The Cost Of Buying And Running Chillers Will Improve Resource Efficiency
There are considerable savings to be made if chillers run for less time – even more if they can be jettisoned altogether. These areas are being addressed by regional government and industry authorities – for instance in the European Union Code of Conduct for Data Centres and the US ASRAE A3 and A4 certifications. The EU’s approach is to produce standards for all data centres (whether in enterprise or telecom companies) across the region to be designed without chillers.
Comparative cost savings are also made by users locating data centres at distance from the equator in order to take advantage of lower ambient temperatures. The combination of its cool location and geothermal energy makes Iceland a natural choice, although its distance from large computer user populations and limited communications bandwidth has prevented a massive build-out there, at least for now.

Dell Is The First To Enable 45C High Temperature Excursions
Aside from the development of more power efficient equipment, Dell’s Data Center Solutions group has been pushing Intel to raise operational temperatures and is the first vendor to take advantage of new, more heat-tolerant, designs. 3 or its 20 data server designs, accounting for around 70% of its current shipments can now run at 45C in high temperature excursions, compared with the 35C limit for earlier designs. It can also run some switches and Equallogic storage devices at higher heat.
The positive consequences for users are not in the cost of servers, although there is no premium for the new designs: nor are they in the operational cost of powering the computers (in fact hotter servers require more energy): however there are significant savings to be made in the amount of time needed to run chillers and even, for those brave enough, in moving to chiller-less data centre designs. Raising the operational temperature a few degrees can save large data centres millions, although there still many organisations who address IT and facilities management in separate budgets (or at least the electricity to run each side of the operation). Advanced suppliers, such as Dell’s DCS division, have integrated go-to-market approaches, helping users make integrated decisions. As far as hotter equipment is concerned, Dell will be followed by most other data centre equipment vendors, but has a first-mover advantage in improving its customers’ resource efficiency.

Image Credit: Martin Hingley

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