How data center cooling systems have evolved
Thursday, Jan 5th 2017

Data centers have changed a lot in the last few decades. A big reason for their modernization has been the sharp uptick in IP network traffic. Networking vendor Cisco has estimated that the amount of traffic passing through data centers will triple between 2014 and 2019. A big chunk of this increase will be from public and private clouds, which offer the on-demand infrastructure that enterprises, governmental organizations and others require to run their most demanding workloads.

"As data centers evolved, power usage effectiveness became an increasingly important metric."

Facilities have been modernized with new hardware and software, updated floor layouts and refreshed cooling systems. The changes in cooling infrastructure have been particularly notable over the years. With more traffic coming into data centers, server racks and other pieces of equipment are under increasing pressure, which leads to rising temperatures. Left unchecked, this heat can cause mechanical failure.

Understanding the evolution of data center cooling

The earliest cooling technologies in data centers were optimized for density. They were mostly similar to corporate cooling infrastructures, but were modified to fit into the particular dimensions of a data center. To meet the standards set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, many facilities included massive air handlers capable of generating sufficient airflow across their vast expanses.

As data centers evolved, power usage effectiveness became an increasingly important metric. The pursuit of PUE led to the introduction of innovations such as variable-speed fans, along with liquid-cooling alternatives to air conditioning as well as advanced environmental monitoring systems, such as the solutions available from ITWatchDogs. These monitors help keep tabs on a wide range of conditions, including airflow, humidity and electrical current. Through timely notifications, they help technicians spot potential issues early and take appropriate actions.

Data center cooling systems should have some monitoring capabilities to ensure proper performance.Data center cooling systems should be paired with environmental monitoring solutions to ensure proper performance.

The most recent movement in data center cooling has been the use of indirect air cooling. Data center giants such as Facebook have been at the forefront of this movement, which has also spilled over many other data center operators. The idea is to take advantage of outside air – often in cool locales such as Sweden or the various Rocky Mountains states in the U.S. – to keep infrastructure cool and reduce the strain on mechanical systems, which have many moving parts and can easily fail.

"Today we are in the middle of the third generation of data center cooling – environmental," explained James Leach of RagingWire Data Centers, in a round table discussion at Data Center Frontier. "Our goal is to minimize the environmental impact of the high-capacity, high-efficiency cooling systems deployed in generations one and two. This is the generation of economization. The idea is to use outside air when possible to keep the data center floor cool."

It is essential for data centers to be environmentally friendly and energy-efficient. Using environmental solutions from ITWatchDogs in conjunction with well-designed cooling systems and floor plans, data center operators can ensure that they minimize downtime and sustain even the most demanding workloads around the clock.