Datacenter cooling makeovers can deliver quick, refreshing savings

Thermal mapping and real-time sensors can swiftly pinpoint opportunities for real energy savings

Data-processing and storage demands have soared over the years as organizations and customers have demanded quicker access to a larger array of information and resources, from accessing sales reports from past fiscal years to conducting real-time teleconferences to viewing and sharing high-def videos of Aunt Linda's new baby hiccupping for three minutes straight. Plenty of datacenter operators have embraced perhaps the simplest solution possible: throwing hardware at the problem.

Only later do problems with this approach begin to surface. For example, datacenter operators have failed to accommodate for the effect that, say, doubling the IT load will have on cooling and airflow. In a vain effort to keep all the machines operating at a safe temperature, datacenter operators have turned to cranking up CRAC units to the max -- or to put it another way, blowing cold air at the problem. This has proven costly as many datacenters operator find themselves paying as much to cool IT hardware as they pay to power it.

[ Learn how datacenter operator RagingWire grapples with cooling challenges using SynapSense's wireless monitoring system. | Utilities across the country are offering incentives to companies that cut energy consumption. ]

Fortunately, IT companies such as IBM, AdaptivCool, SynapSense, and others are rolling out products and services to assist datacenter operators in managing cooling and airflow issues. Doing so can help an organization reclaim a hefty chunk of its power and utilty budget, often without having to invest time and money into ripping and replacing existing equipment.

Measure to manage
IBM, for example, announced this week that Toyota Motor Sales successfully deployed its Measurement and Management Technologies (MMT) over a five-month period at Toyota's 20,000-square-foot datacenter in Torrance, Calif. Big Blue's multilevel measurement tool assesses thermal readings throughout a datacenter -- from floor to ceiling -- and provides a detailed breakdown of the heat distribution by creating a high-resolution, three-dimensional chart that pinpoints power and cooling inefficiencies.

According to Hendrik Hamman, research staff member and manager of the Photonics and Thermal Physics department at IBM, those inefficiencies might relate to the physical placement of servers and other IT gear, as well as cooling ducts and even perforated tiles. The map might also reveal which CRAC units can be turned off entirely.


Once the detailed mapping was complete, IBM was able to create a base model of the datacenter, then develop and implement improvements, such as improving airflow management, reducing chilled air leakage, matching cooling capacities to IT power consumption, and implementing a system to separate exhaust air and inlet temperatures within the datacenter.

Through it all, Toyota was able to cut AC usage by 30 percent. The company's energy provider, Southern California Edison, quantified the company's energy savings and determined a demand reduction of more than 10 percent.

"[MMT] is clearly very good with virtualization and other longer-term technology projects that often require more investment," said Hamman. "This technology is focused on taking account of existing operations and seeing if you're using them efficiently. Looking at it in terms of how much you need to invest and what your return is, it's obviously quite attractive."

Cathy Tryon, national manager of datacenter operations for Toyota Motor Sales, echoed the sentiment: "In a very short period of time, MMT showed us where to begin making inexpensive changes to airflow and temperature set points in our computer room," Tryon said. "This allowed us to safely shut down two computer room air conditioners, resulting in significant energy and cost savings."

As part of the project, IBM also piloted an extension of MMT that includes real-time sensors distributed in strategic places throughout the datacenter. The technology enables constant monitoring of temperature distributions. According to Hamman, however, starting with the detailed base model of the entire datacenter is essential to making the less-detailed real-time data delivered by the sensors more useful.

Intelligently cool
IBM isn't the only organization offering technology and services to help customers get a handle on cooling costs. A three-year-old company called AdaptivCool is also claiming success with its own IT-oriented approach to maximizing cooling efficiency. The company recently announced that an unnamed "large Manhattan bank" has deployed AdaptivCool's Room Scale Intelligent Cooling (RSIC) system. In doing so, the company is projected to cut energy consumption by 200,000 kilowatt hours in the first year. Moreover, the project earned the bank $16,000 in incentives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

The RSIC system employs strategically placed temperature sensors to send information to a sophisticated Cooling Resource Manager that calculates minute-by-minute cooling demand throughout the datacenter and controls airflow dynamically via floor- and ceiling-mounted intelligent HotSpotr air movers. These air movers, which can be swapped in for perforated tiles on datacenter floors, consist of a redundant matrix of high-performance fans in an aluminum enclosure. They're controlled by an intelligent thermostatic controller, intended to improve airflow and provide cooling on a highly granular basis.

The RSIC system is also capable of communicating with existing CRAC units from the major providers and automatically adjusting their output in real time.

As with IBM's MMT and cooling offerings from other providers such as SynapSense, AdaptivCool shows environmental data via a graphical display, gathered by the sensors deployed throughout the datacenter. It offers trending analysis and reporting capabilities; plus, it can send alerts when an anomaly occurs.

In addition to their consulting services and technologies, IBM and AdaptivCool both provide datacenter environmental-monitoring services; that is, they can use their solutions to remotely monitor and manage datacenter temperature, humidity, and the like so that IT can focus on more technology-oriented tasks.

The benefits of subjecting your datacenter to a thermal checkup and makeover are pretty clear, especially if you haven't done anything aside from cranking up the AC since adding racks of blades to your facility. Unlike a technology refresh or a virtualization project, an environmental-health adjustment should be neither overly disruptive nor time-consuming -- and it should come with a pretty swift ROI, as well as potential incentives from your local utility, depending on your provider.

This story, "Datacenter cooling makeovers can deliver quick, refreshing savings," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in green IT at


Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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