Monday, 6 June 2016

Are Data Centres Able to Operate in Tropical Environments?

Given that a large percentage of the power used to run the average data centre is directly related to cooling, builders and designers do their best to locate new facilities in locales with cooler climates and lower humidity. The idea is to save money by reducing the amount of power used for temperature and humidity control. Still, the curious among us want to know if a data centre could still operate at peak performance under conditions twice the current norms.

We are about to find out thanks to a test to get under way shortly in Singapore. News reports say the world's first tropical data centre is now in the planning stages and involves a number of big-name partners including Dell, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Intel, ERS, Fujitsu and others. The consortium will set up a controlled test environment in an existing Keppel data centre for the test.

Current standards dictate that data centres not be allowed reach temperatures in excess of 20°C with a relative humidity of no more than 50-60%. Those numbers will be almost doubled for the test. The test centre will be allowed to reach 38°C and the relative humidity upwards of 90%.

Researchers appear to be at least somewhat optimistic that their test will prove data centres do not have to be kept under such tight controls. If they are proven correct, the test will open the door to a much larger geographic area in which data centres could be built without compromising performance.

Temperature, Humidity or Contaminants?

Current standards for temperature and humidity at data centres have not really been questioned over the last 30 to 40 years. As with so many other things in the digital arena, there is even considerable debate as to how the industry arrived at the current standards and if these are even scientific at all. Indeed, a number of studies several years ago suggested that air-borne contaminants were more damaging to sensitive data centre equipment than ambient temperature and humidity.

Some researchers have gone as far as to speculate that purifying the air circulating through data centres would do far more to achieve maximum performance than tightly controlling temperature and humidity. Whether that is true or not is a matter for future tests. But if the tropical data centre being established in Singapore does turn out to be successful, it would be worth repeating the test under identical circumstances that would also include air purification controls.

Building Greener Data Centres:

The Singapore test is, at the end of the day, all about learning how we can build greener data centres that do not consume nearly as much power. As the digital world grows, more and more of our energy resources will have to be put toward powering the data centres that make modern life possible. If data centres can truly operate at nearly twice the current standards for temperature and humidity, imagine how much money we could save by not having to control the data centre environment so tightly.

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