Data Center Efficiencies Coming Full Circle to DC, Liquid Cooling

by | Jun 8, 2009

data-center2Throwing around terms like liquid cooling and DC power, the next generation in data center efficiencies may have a decidedly retro look, said Roger Schmidt, Chief Engineer for Data Center Energy Efficiency at IBM.

Additionally, data centers will incorporate higher voltages and more renewable energy sources, said Schmidt, an engineer based in IBM’s Poughkeepsie, New York, office.

For his efforts in identifying data center efficiencies — arguably one of the hottest business sciences today — Schmidt was recently named an IBM technical fellow, a prestigious honor achieved by only 218 IBM employees since the 1960s. Schmidt was a driving force in IBM’s “Big Green” project.

That retro look

Early binary data centers were liquid cooled. Most contemporary data centers are air-cooled, but liquid cooling provides better performance per watt, Schmidt said.

Another data center improvement may come from delivering higher voltage to servers. “Putting the electricity through transformers wastes energy,” Schmidt said, adding that DC power distribution may play a role.

Tie-ins to renewable energy sources, or other energy sources such as natural gas, also will define trend-setting data centers.

Schmidt started working on data centers in 1995, when IBM began shipping products into the CMOS marketplace, which used air-cooled technology, as opposed to water cooling.

“I could see back then that ventilation and cooling in data centers would be a big issue, with all the energy it takes to cool them,” Schmidt said. “It’s a challenge for all clients to provide the proper ventilation.”

Schmidt has spent the last 10 years developing best practices for data centers, including simple things like plugging holes in walls, to redirecting the chilled air to right portions of the room.

A warmer kind of cool

As for the higher-hanging fruit, Schmidt has found that it’s possible to raise the average temperature of data centers.

But sometimes facilities personnel who provide electrical and cooling support for IT data centers pose obstacles to improvements in data center cooling. “They don’t want to compromise any aspect of their facility. They feel if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. After all, their jobs are on the line to make sure the data center is properly cooled.”

Recent work suggests most legacy data centers can shave 5-10 percent in cooling use by raising the average temperature from 20-25 C to as high as 27 C, or about 81 degrees. “That’s a huge amount of energy when you look at the number of data centers around the world,” he said.

“To say that the air coming off the cold aisle in a data center can be as high as 81 F is a breakthrough, and the hotter air coming off the back of the equipment and toward the air conditioning actually makes the AC units run more efficiently,”  he added.

The recommendation to run a warmer data center will be presented later this year in course material on data center best practices being put together from IBM, the Department of Energy and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

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