Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Cooling and Humidity Conundrum for Data Centres

Every time a new data centre is built, architectural and design teams work together to design and build a structure that can safely house hundreds of hard drives and peripheral equipment in an environment that can be kept cool and clean. It has long been understood that heat and data centre equipment do not play well together. However, research emerging from the States indicates that humidity is another concern that, until now, we have not been paying attention to.

We do know that exposing hard drives and other data centre equipment to high heat is not good. Heat causes electronic components to break down more quickly than they otherwise would. Therefore, cooling is an essential part of every new data centre design. In fact, power and cooling needs may get more attention than anything else in the design phase of a new facility.

As designers are looking for ways to use less power by utilising outdoor air for cooling purposes, they now have to worry about humidity as well. According to a joint research project involving a data centre owner, Microsoft and Rutgers University, humidity is even more dangerous to hard drive disks than temperature. They are warning data centre designers to be very careful about the amount of humidity they allow into facilities by way of outside air.

What They Discovered

The researchers who looked into free cooling were concerned that not enough data existed to explain the relationship between humidity and equipment failure. They wanted to know exactly how environmental conditions impact equipment reliability and performance. So they set out to collect data from nine different data centres located around the world over a four-year span.

Interestingly, they discovered that those data centres using free cooling were more likely to experience performance degradation and outright equipment failure than those that used more traditional power and cooling set-ups. Furthermore, the data indicated that relative humidity was the most important issue. Disk failures increased in volume commensurate with high relative humidity.

"Based on our experience and observations, we conclude that high relative humidity degrades reliability significantly, having a much more substantial impact than temperature or temperature variation,” the researchers wrote in their report. “Thus, the design of free cooled data centres and their servers must consider the relative humidity to which components are exposed as a first-class issue."

Implications for Green Energy

On the one hand, the analysis of data centre humidity is very important to ensure existing and future facilities are able to properly care for their equipment. On the other hand, the report does have implications for the future of green energy. Because green energy is largely based on what nature provides, environmental factors have to be considered. Green technologies must make accommodations for relative humidity in ways that provide proper cooling without allowing too much moisture into the data centre facility. We feel sure that designers will find a sensible way forward; it is just a matter of what that way will be.



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