Poor cooling killing server lifespans: SRA

Importance of cooling overshadowed by higher profile data centre issues

Poor data centre cooling and air flow design can cut the life of servers and equipment by as much as five years, according to Server Racks Australia (SRA).

Speaking ahead of the company’s forthcoming presentation and workshop at CeBIT Australia’s Future Proofing Your Data Centre conference, data centre solutions architect at SRA, Andrew Connelly, said the importance of cooling was often overshadowed by high profile data centre issues such as power consumption and Green IT.

“The key issue is that as data centre density has increased. We are seeing more by-pass air and recirculated air — both of which mean the life of a server is dramatically reduced, and servers and other hardware can fail as they are not being cooled effectively,” he said.

‘By-pass air’ occurs when cold air intended to cool a piece of equipment by-passes the equipment and returns back through to the cooling system.

‘Recirculated air’ occurs when hot air vented from one piece of equipment re-enters another piece of equipment instead of the intended cold air from the cooling system.

According to Connelly, as little as a 10ºC increase in temperature over a server’s optimum running temperature could reduce the life of a semiconductor in a server by as much as five years. And the mean time between failure of servers is reduced by fluctuating temperatures.

“Most servers have a five to seven year life cycle, so that can dramatically reduced the life and performance of that server,” he said.

Connelly said that despite the growing demand on data centre cooling systems, there were ways to design a server room to support high server densities of up to 20kW of power per cabinet.

“Data centres that are now around five years old, or older, may not be designed for the heat loads of today, however they can improve their performance without actually changing their cooling system via a few simple techniques around hot air containment and the delivery of constant temperature air,” he said.

This included the higher temperature of air supplied from the cooling system, containing air to prevent bypass and recirculated air, and monitoring and control of the airflow in a data centre.

“It’s known that 50-70 per cent of the power in a data centre is used for cooling aspect and the rest is for the equipment,” Connelly suggested. “If you make your cooling more efficient it’s a big saving to the bottom line for the environment. Even if you get it down by 5 or 10 per cent, that can be hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost savings.”

SRA's Andrew Connelly will be presenting at CeBIT’s Future Proofing Your Data Centre conference at 1.30pm on Monday 22 March, and SRA will be holding a data centre cooling workshop on Tuesday 23 March 2010 at 11am.

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