With major parts of the U.S. under an intense heat wave, opting for less cooling may seem like a bad idea. But it isn't.
The U.S. General Services Administration, as part of data center consolidation and efficiency efforts, has recommended raising data center temperatures from 72 degrees Fahrenheit to as high as 80 degrees. Based on industry best practices, the GSA said it can save 4% to 5% in energy costs for every one degree increase in the server inlet temperature.
But how many data centers are near the upper data center limit recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) of 80.6 degrees?
Not many, it turns out.
To run near the ASHRAE limits, "you really need to have the operations expertise on staff to manage a higher risk environment," said Matt Stansberry, director of content for the Uptime Institute.
According to 2013 Uptime Institute survey data of more than 1,000 data centers globally, nearly half of all data centers reported operating at 71 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This is largely unchanged from last year's survey.
The next largest temperature segment, from 65 to 70 degrees, was 37% of data centers and is unchanged from last year.
Nonetheless, the survey points to changes at the margins. The most noticeable one is the percentage of data centers operating at temperatures of more than 75 degrees. That figure increased from 3% to 7% from last year. It is still a small percentage, but if it hits 10% next year, it may be a clear sign of a trend to warmer data centers.
Another sign: In 2011, the Uptime survey reported that 15% of the data centers were at temperatures below 65%. But in the last two surveys, only 6% are running below 65 degrees.
Data center equipment today is more capable of handling higher temperatures, which prompted the ASHRAE, in 2008, to raise the recommended the recommended temperature of air entering servers and other data center equipment from 77 degrees to 80.6 degrees.
"In order to implement hotter inlet air temps, you need to do it gradually, and make sure you're not causing problems in other parts of the data center," said Stansberry. "Unless you have trained staff who can do that, it's not going to happen."
Only 15% of the data center managers responding to the survey said they were measuring and controlling air temperatures from the server inlet, which Uptime considers the most accurate place, with "room level" measuring, at 27%, the least accurate.
Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.