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The London Financial Times published an interesting article about data center cooling. Written by fellow blgger Dan Ilet of Greenbang.com it focuses on the strain being put on data centers by increased numbers and power demand of servers and the rapid increase in the cost of electricity.

Its often amusing what journalists pick up in a discussion and I laughed when I read the first paragraph:

“A rack of computers in a data centre uses the same amount of electricity as a giant electric oven – “an oven cooking about five turkeys,” says Steve O’Donnell, senior vice-president of IT for First Data, and author of thehotsisle.com.”

I wanted to paint a picture of the heat output from a 20KW rack and help the non technical readers of the FT visualize the impact of trying to refrigerate an oven of that size.

Here is some of the other interesting parts of the article:

These days a growing amount of IT equipment is designed to use less energy and in some cases operate at higher temperatures.

“Not all equipment can operate at high temperatures though,” adds Mr O’Donnell. “Intel tells me its processor can reliably operate at more than 100 degrees Celsius, but surrounding systems and components start failing.”

“If you choose your equipment properly, you can run it at quite hot temperatures. You can also put more kit in a room just by opening the windows. Lots of modern data centres use fresh air cooling. There is misconception that high-density cooling is the way to go.”

“The best thing to do is rent an aircraft hangar in the middle of the countryside and fill it with fresh air to cool your equipment – even in the summer, unless you’re somewhere like the Sahara.”

Mr O’Donnell says that the reason so many data centres today are sealed is that 20 years ago much of the equipment was sensitive to heat and dust. This is not the case today for a lot of machinery.

He also argues the IT industry has inherited out-of-date guidelines from vendors. “When the brochures get printed, the marketeers use the same specs as the last box in the product series. That might say, ‘operate between 20 and 24 degrees Celsius’. No one challenges them and says ‘well, why can’t we say 30 degrees for this box?’.”

Why can’t we say 50 degrees is more like it!

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