Datacentre cooling a hot topic

Datacentre cooling is becoming a topic of widespread interest. Ways to tackle it include server dieting (aka virtualisation) and hot aisle/cold aisle design.


Datacentre operators will go to almost any lengths to avoid an overheated server. Case in point: a financial institution in London suffered a power shortage during an extremely hot day one recent summer, and was left with no ability to cool its servers and storage.

"They went to the extent of having the fire department come and hose down the outside of the building [to cool it down],” said IBM’s Rich Lechner, who is leading a datacentre efficiency project called Big Green.

That’s certainly an unusual step, and probably something to be avoided, but datacentre managers throughout the world are missing opportunities to use less power, Lechner and other speakers said Wednesday during a panel discussion on datacentre cooling hosted in by the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MTLC).

Datacentre energy consumption as a percentage of total US electricity use has doubled since 2000, and datacentres and servers will double their energy consumption again – to 100 billion kilowatt-hours by 2012 at an annual cost of at least $7.4 billion, according to Environmental Protection Agency statistics cited by MTLC.

With environmental damage an increasing concern worldwide, corporations are being motivated to reduce energy usage both by commitments to social responsibility and sky-high electricity bills.

“It is our number one expense. I pay more for electricity than I do for rent,” said Wayne Sawchuk, CEO and co-founder of ColoSpace, which provides co-location services in six datacentres composed of more than 4,000 servers across 35,000 square feet in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. “I have a tremendous desire to reduce our electric bill every month.”

IBM is redesigning its own datacentres as it attempts to double its computing capacity within three years without increasing energy consumption. Big Blue is also focusing on customers, and next week plans to announce x86-based systems that “will essentially require zero air conditioning,” Lechner said. IBM is using liquid cooling and putting thermal sensors inside servers, allowing fans inside the server to move at different speeds depending on need, he said.

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