New ways to use water for data center temperature monitoring
Monday, Apr 8th 2013

One San Francisco Bay Area robotics company has developed a new ingenious data center temperature monitoring technique: Stick the entire server in water. A California manufacturer recently release a floating robot that functions as a remote data center facility.

The device, dubbed the Wave Glider, looks like a lost surfboard floating aimlessly at sea. The board is equipped with solar photovoltaic panels in addition to numerous cameras, sensors and computing power. The on-board systems are powerful enough to store and analyze large amounts of data remotely and then beam back its conclusion to land-based networks via satellite, CNET reported.

Although a small, floating and self-contained data center with limited processing power may seem like a fruitless invention, The New York Times reported that it offers a few distinct advantages. For one, the system is designed to function with little or no oversight from IT staff, which can be a boon for data center operators. In addition, the robot is made to withstand hurricanes, thus making the latest Wave Glider a potentially ideal disaster recovery and business continuity option.

"Networking is so different in the real world," John Gage, the chief scientist behind the project, said. "Bandwidth can be wide open or a soda straw. If something goes off in a data center, you assume it's dead, or a human can come and fix it; that is not true here, where things can be working but away from the network. It's a fascinating problem in ambiguity."

Another major benefit of this design is that it means operators do not need to spend exorbitant sums on air conditioning units to maintain a static data center temperature. Since surface ocean temperatures near the United States coast remain relatively stable and are within safe server operational ranges, the need to use a traditional temperature sensor is diminished. For example, surface sea temperatures in Alameda, California - which is approximately 40 miles away from the robotics manufacturer's headquarters - peak at about 66 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Oceanographic Data Center. Considering that industry standards dictate that the server room temperature can be as hot as 80 F, the likelihood of the Wave Glider's onboard system overheating is slim.

Simpler ways to use water for data center temperature monitoring
While the Wave Glider may be one of most unique ways facilities operators use water for data center temperature monitoring, it is far from the only example. As energy costs and usage rises in the industry, IT professionals are increasingly looking to HVAC alternatives to keep computing infrastructure cool. As a result, water-based temperature monitoring solutions are becoming far more common in the industry.

For example, a data center in Stockholm, Sweden, pumps in sea water to keep servers cool. According to Data Center Knowledge, this system reduced the facility's electricity usage by 80 percent and helped make the facility one of the most energy efficient data centers in Europe.

Additionally, some of Google's data center facilities use similar temperature monitoring techniques. Its operations in Finland utilize sea water as well, while its data center in Belgium pumps in canal water to keep servers at ideal temperatures. At the technology company's operations in Douglas County, Georgia, municipal waste water is used to cool the equipment.

"Evaporation is a powerful tool," Google said on its website. "In our bodies, it helps us maintain our temperature even when outside temperatures are warmer than we are. It also works similarly in our cooling towers. As hot water from the data center flows down the towers through a material that speeds evaporation, some of the water turns to vapor. A fan lifts this vapor, removing the excess heat in the process, and the tower sends the cooled water back into the data center."

While these systems help reduce energy costs, operators still need to use data center temperature monitoring equipment to avoid unplanned downtime and ensure that servers are always operational.