Test Aims to Disprove Data Center Dogma

A Trinity Health IT engineer keeps systems that reside in a generator shed running, despite fluctuating temperatures and dusty conditions.

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Since January, David Filas, a data center engineer at Trinity Health, has been running decommissioned servers, networking gear and storage systems in a simple generator shed on the grounds of the healthcare provider's headquarters in Novi, Mich.

Filas hopes that by January 2012, this project will have convinced his colleagues that IT equipment isn't as fragile as they think it is.

So far, the equipment has stayed up and running, enduring Michigan's wide seasonal variations in temperature and humidity levels, Filas said at the Afcom data center conference in Orlando last month.

Like their counterparts at other organizations, IT administrators at Trinity Health, which runs 47 hospitals and other facilities in 10 states, are reluctant to raise temperatures in data centers. But Filas said he wants his staff to be more comfortable with higher temperatures. "They get nervous when I dial up the temperature, even to the mid-70s," he said. "I'm trying to dispel the myth among my own staff that it has to be [65 degrees], because it doesn't."

Filas is hoping to show that IT equipment can safely run at inlet temperatures as high 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

Increasing data center temperatures can have a big payoff, said Rick Tinucci, executive vice president of Bick Group, a data center consultancy. A 1-degree increase in the temperature of a 5,000-square-foot data center with 200 tons of cooling (one ton equals 12,000 BTUs) would cut annual energy costs by $30,000, based on a power rate of 0.10 cents per kilowatt-hour, the national average, he said. "Even at 0.05 cents [per] kwh, the savings for a 1-degree temperature adjustment is significant," Tinucci added.

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