Serving up a rack cooler

Even new, state-of-the-art data centers are experiencing power and cooling issues, as I discovered during a recent site visit.

The company I visited this week is just putting the finishing touches on a large (10,000+ square foot) data center, but despite a raised floor, careful engineering and dual room air conditioning systems it still had to create a blank rack space between four of its blade server racks to avoid creating hot space in the room.

Why? The problem is that the room design was started five years ago. At that time the plan called for a maximum of 200 Watts per square foot and 10KW racks. They made adjustments over the past few years to support  just over 350W per square foot, but with their latest blade server racks topping 20KW they say they really need to be at 400 Watts per square foot. They can't rebuild the room at this point, so the solution is to leave one out of five racks empty - a loss of 20% of the floor space per row in the area of the room hosting blade servers. That adds up when you have more than 3,000 processors.

This is a good example of where a product like IBM's recently announced "Cool Blue" product would come in handy. Also known as the IBM eServer Heat eXchanger, this $4,299 unit attaches to the rear of an IBM rack and accepts chilled water supply from the room air conditioning system to pipe away heat emissions before it can exit the rack into the room (for more details, see Patrick Thibodeau's story, IBM chills out with server cooling effort. IBM claims the device can reduce heat emissions from a rack by up to 55 percent. It also claims that the device reduces power consumption by 15%, but the real value is probably recaptured floor space.

Cool Blue is just one of the so-called "point cooling solutions" that vendors are offering these days (to see what IT profesionals are saying about Cool Blue, see IBM jumps back into water-cooled systems). Vendors continue to differentiate their server products based on the ability to control heat issues. IBM promotes its "Calibrated Vectored Cooling" airflow designs within its server racks. And vendors of power and cooling systems offer both air - and water-based spot cooling options. APC offers point air conditioning units and in-rack  ventilation systems that can pipe air outside or directly into the room air conditioning system. Liebert also offers its X-Treme Density line of spot cooling systems. I expect we'll be seeing a lot more use of these types of devices in data centers as power and cooling demands continue to rise.

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