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Evolution of Data Center Temperature Control Designs

Servers in a data center room

Innovation in Technology and Design Achieves Cost and Energy Savings

The world’s appetite for information architecture capacity continues to fuel the growth of the data center industry. Ranging from small server rooms to enormous multi-tenant facilities, there are now approximately 3 million data centers in the United States alone, a number that will only continue to increase in the coming years.

As is true for many growth industries, there has been an evolution in data center design that continues to drive efficiencies and performance. These advances are critical to help data centers meet the performance requirements of modern standards, achieve enormous cost savings, and remain viable in an evolving and competitive industry.

Modern Challenges, Modern Solutions

Bulky metal overhead vents in a data center.

In 2013, U.S.-based data centers consumed roughly 100 billion kWh of electricity, the majority of which was allocated to powering servers and keeping them within the ASHRAE recommended temperature range. It is fair to say that most advances in data center design have focused on creating spaces that keep servers cool and performant as energy efficiently as possible.

One half of the equation involved with achieving greater energy efficiency is designing HVAC systems that are precise in their air dispersion, which we wrote about previously. The other half of the equation is designing data center spaces that can maintain consistent temperatures without wasting cool air and, consequently, electricity and money.

Years ago, as large-scale data center facilities were becoming more prominent, the de facto temperature regulation solution was to simply flood the space with cold air, as a high enough volume of cooled air pumped into an open space would keep overall temps low. There was also a tendency to over-cool everything to “play it safe” – data hall temperatures in the 60°F range were common. The costs associated with such over engineering were unsustainable, both from an energy cost / consumption perspective and because these systems could not adapt to meet the needs of the advancing technology of the server systems themselves.

The movement of cool and hot air using overhead DuctSox in a data center.

As the industry grew and built a better understanding of performant system design, engineers began implementing best practices across the industry, such as designating “hot” and “cold” aisles or setting up physical barriers to keep warm and cool air from mixing. To make this more precise and targeted air flow a reality, the technology and systems to support these designs have had to evolve as well.

Reaping the Rewards of Precision Systems

The advantages of performant and efficient HVAC systems designed specifically for server spaces span every aspect of the business and industry.

Cost Savings

Now accounting for 2-3% of total electricity usage in the United States, energy costs represent an enormous line item on any data center’s budget. In fact, a 20% increase in efficiency across the industry would equate to more than $2 billion in cost savings annually.

Keeping Pace with Technology 

During the early days of large-scale data centers there was little mind paid to differentiated requirements of various types of equipment. These days this is a requirement in data environments. IT equipment is becoming more specialized and differentiated – processors, speeds, and components are varied and come with different temperature and performance requirements.

Having a system design with the ability to be more precise with temperature control ensures that a data center can cater to whichever type of equipment prospective customers need.

Design elements that have historically helped regulate data center temperature include physical barriers, air dispersion systems, and raised floors systems.

Enabling Scale

The IT equipment housed within data centers is upgraded and replaced roughly every three to five years. Centers that have invested in a precise and flexible HVAC system up front save themselves the time, cost, and headache involved with upgrading or overhauling their air systems every time an equipment changeover happens.

Winning a Competitive Advantage

Success in the data center space hinges on designing an HVAC system that can maintain a consistent temperature, and also remain flexible and adaptable to changing conditions and equipment needs. Doing so at the highest level of energy efficiency has proven to maintain the integrity of equipment for longer and to save big on overall costs. While there are other important factors to consider with data center HVAC solutions, temperature consistency is essential to success and should not be overlooked. Download our design guide to see how designing such an HVAC system is possible.

Take a look at the custom data center HVAC solutions DuctSox developed for Liquid Web, Involta-Northpointe and Involta-Cedar Rapids to learn more.