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Well-preserved data center

A project to air condition a data center must have certain characteristics that make it optimal. We analyze the details that lead these types of facilities to success or failure.

By Duván Chaverra Agudelo

The most valuable asset of a channel or a production company, beyond its equipment and state-of-the-art systems, are the contents that over time it has been making. When moving from recording on tapes to digital formats, one of the most necessary points to preserve all the material is the adequate tempreratura of the spaces where the digital filing cabinets are located.

Generally, a data center is implemented in medium or large organizations in order to allow the proper functioning of a company's computer networks and at the same time store all electronic operations.

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But these equipment are special and expensive, so they require a special location where they can be protected and allowed to operate without suffering any damage due to heating. For that reason, different air conditioning designs are known to guarantee the useful life of the equipment.

There are different aspects that an engineering professional and specialized in data center cooling must take into account to execute a correct installation. One of the most basic measures is that the design of the systems comply with the conditions of temperature and relative humidity in the area, to allow an optimal exchange of heat between the equipment that is there and the environment.

As in any air conditioning design, the calculation of the thermal load for the area where the data center is located, is another aspect that cannot be left aside. In addition to the construction materials according to the region where they will be located.

"A precision unit must be specified that can carry these loads generated by electronic equipment. When talking about a precision air conditioning unit, it specifies equipment that has the ability to maintain temperature and relative humidity conditions within a range of ± 1°C  and ± 3%, respectively. It is essential to be very clear that the required air flow will depend on the sensitive loads inside and based on this value the precision unit must also be selected. Therefore, it is clear that there are two factors to take into account in the selection of the precision unit and special care must be taken to calculate the thermal load of the area, "said Camilo Botero, consulting engineer and president of Camilo Botero Engineering.

The engineer, who shared with us his knowledge related to the experience he has had developing air conditioning designs for data centers, also recommends that in the first stage of the design you should think about backup systems to cope with contingencies of damage to precision equipment, for example, a kind of back up with another precision unit or with conventional equipment of similar capacity.

Another issue to take into account is the temperature of the room, in terms of variation (22° C +/- 1 °C), relative humidity (example 45% + 3%), filtration level (example MERV 15) and heat recuperators. Camilo Bortero also highlights the importance of defining the type of technology that will be used to access the solution: false floors, hot and cold corridors, internal cooling in the modules, among others.

Errors and consequences
If the above recommendations are not taken into account, the design of a cooling system for data centers could suffer errors that mean high economic losses and valuable information for the company. Next, the engineer Botero reviews some of the problems that are committed in this type of installation.

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- Erroneous thermal load calculations and therefore selection of incorrect equipment.
- Wrong configurations of the arrangement of the furniture inside the data center.
- Believe that if the conditions are achieved in the living room, the modules are well air-conditioned. It should be remembered that what matters is to cool the electronic cards where the heat is generated and maintain the relative humidity that the manufacturer specifies also in the cards.
- There is a great myth in this type of facilities, it is thought that the "colder" the data center is better, making, sometimes, totally uncomfortable places for the people who work there and consuming more energy than necessary.
- Incorrect distribution and supply of air conditioning to the furniture and the living room.
- Poor filtration.
- Excess energy consumption
- Lack of proper control.

These errors generate consequences that may even be irreparable; for example, if the evacuation of thermal energy in electronic circuits is not met, catastrophic failures and downtime in the data center can occur. "In case of not controlling  the relative humidity, static charges will be generated that affect the information if the relative humidity is less than 45%, or there will be condensation with the corresponding damage if the relative humidity rises from 60% (it depends, obviously, on the dew point of the room)", commented Camilo Botero.

Another aspect has to do with installing the proper filtration, since the dust that comes with the outside air can also deteriorate the circuits.

Maintenance for all causes
Our guest consultant emphasizes that, like any installation, maintenance must be preventive, predictive and under conditions, it is also essential to comply with the recommendations made by the manufacturers of the equipment.

"It is important to clean the filters, therefore it is recommended to consult the conditions of the outside air in relation to its contamination; handling units must have differential pressure gauges to monitor filter cleaning conditions. It must also be ensured that the air flow is always the design, this can be done through a real-time control and monitoring system, "said the engineer.

Botero recommends that, on the wide variety of equipment available for this purpose, those that capture the thermal load of the electronic circuits in the place where it is generated and that also do not allow the determined values of temperature, relative humidity and air cleanliness to be exceeded.

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Finally, the engineer highlights some recommendations that will allow an efficiency in the operation of the equipment: "In order to operate the systems efficiently, each precision unit must be governed by a digital controller included within the equipment, achieving the required conditions and minimizing energy consumption. This controller must have the possibility of an external binary input for turning on or off in case of emergency by smoke detection inside (signal received from fire controller). Likewise, it must allow an external digital output for the operation of insulation dampers both in the supply and return of the dampers (the insulation dampers will be installed in the duct system). When the handling unit is on, the dampers must be open and when the unit is turned off they must be closed," the engineer concluded.

Innovative cooling method in data centers
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Nrel), part of the U.S. Department of Energy, is implementing a new technology to cool  servers with hot water.

As revealed by the portal, for the installation in its high-performance computational cluster, this modernization will have the hot water cooling system direct to the Asetek RackCDU chip, which uses hot water at 75ºF (23.88ºC) to operate the servers.

Asetek claims that its RackCDU can achieve cooling energy savings of up to 80% and the density can grow 2.5 times above current air-cooled data centers.

"RackCDU removes heat from CPUs, GPUs, memory modules and other hot spots inside servers and takes it out of the data center using liquid where it can be cooled with outside air for free or recycled to generate heat and hot water for the building," added in Asetek.

Richard Santa, RAVT
Author: Richard Santa, RAVT
Periodista de la Universidad de Antioquia (2010), con experiencia en temas sobre tecnología y economía. Editor de las revistas TVyVideo+Radio y AVI Latinoamérica. Coordinador académico de TecnoTelevisión&Radio.

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