Data Center Risk

Surprising Areas of Data Center Risk and How to Proactively Manage Them

Mission critical facilities need a different level of scrutiny and control over cooling management.

It’s no surprise that cooling is critical to the security of these facilities.  With requirements for 99.999 uptime and multimillion dollar facilities at risk, cooling is often the thin blue line between data safety and disaster.

And yet, many mission critical facilities use cooling control systems that were designed for comfort cooling, versus the reliable operation of hugely valuable and sensitive equipment.

When people get warm, they become uncomfortable. When IT equipment overheats, it fails – often with catastrophically expensive results.

In one recent scenario, a 6-minute chiller plant failure resulted in lost revenue and penalties totaling $14 million.  In another scenario, the failure of a single CRAC unit caused temperatures to shoot up to over 100 degrees Fehrenheit in a particular zone, resulting in the failure of a storage array.

These failures result from a myriad of complex, and usually unrealized risk areas.  My recent talk at the i4Energy Seminar series hosted by the California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE) exposes some of these hidden risk areas and what you can do about them.

You can watch that talk here:


Cleantech Evolves

Smart Loading for the Smart Grid – New Directions in Cleantech

I recently participated in a TiE Energy Panel (The Hottest Energy Startups: Companies Changing the Energy Landscape), with colleagues from Primus Power, Power Assure, Mooreland Partners and Gen110.

The panel concurred that the notion of Cleantech – and the investment money that follows it – has shifted from a focus on energy generation to a focus on energy management.   To date, this is primarily because cheaper energy sources, hyped in early Cleantech press, haven’t materialized.  It’s hard to compete with heavily subsidized incumbent energy sources, much less build a business for what’s perceived as a commodity business.  There are exceptions, like solar energy development, but other alternative sources have languished financially despite their promise.

The investment shift toward energy management is also a result of emerging efficiency-focused technology.  Data Center Infrastructure Management or DCIM is all about smart management – with an emphasis on energy.  Gartner believes that there are some 60+ companies in this space, which is rapidly gaining acceptance as a data center requirement.

This shift is also supported by the convergence of other technology growth areas, such as big data and cloud computing, both of which play well with energy management.   As our increasingly sensor-driven environment creates more and more data – big data – its volume has surpassed the ability of humans to manage it.

And yet the availability of this data, accurate, collected in real-time, inclusive of the dimensions of time and location, represents real promise.  Availability and analysis of this information within individual corporations and perhaps shared more broadly via the cloud, will reveal continuous options for improving efficiency and will likely point to entirely new means of larger scale energy optimization through an integrated smart grid.

The days of facility operators running around with temperature guns and clipboards – although still surprisingly common today – is giving way to central computer screens with consolidated and scannable, actionable data.

This is an exciting time.  I’m all for new ideas and the creation of less expensive, less environmentally harmful ways to generate energy.  But as these alternative options evolve, I am equally excited by the strides industry has made for the smarter use of the resources we have.

The wave of next generation energy management is still rising.

More Cooling

More Cooling With Less $$

My last post took a look at the maintenance savings possible through more efficient data center/facility cooling management.  You can gain further savings by increasing the capacity of your existing air handling/ air conditioning units.  It is even possible to add IT load without requiring new air conditioners or at the least, deferring those purchases.  Here’s how.

Data centers and buildings have naturally occurring air stratification.  Many facilities deliver cool air from an under floor plenum.  As the air heats and rises, cooling air is delivered low and moved about with low velocity.  Because server racks sit on the floor, they sit in a colder area on average.  The air conditioners however, draw from higher in the room – capturing the hot air from above and delivering it, once cooled down, to the under floor plenum. This vertical stratification creates an opportunity to deliver cooler air to servers and at the same time increase cooling capacity by drawing return air from higher in the room.

However, this isn’t easy to achieve.  The problem is that uncoordinated or decentralized control of air conditioners often causes some of the units to deliver uncooled air into the under floor plenum. There, the mixing of cooled and uncooled air results in higher inlet air temperatures of servers, and ultimately lower return-air temperatures, which reduces the capacity of the cooling equipment.

A cooling management system can establish a colder profile at the bottom of the rack and make sure that each air conditioner is actually having a cooling effect, versus working ineffectively and actually increasing heat through its operation. An intelligent cooling energy management system dynamically right-sizes air conditioning unit capacity loads, coordinating their combined operation so that all the units deliver cool air and don’t mix hot return air from some units with cold air from other units. This unit-by-unit but combined coordination squeezes the maximum efficiency out of all available units so that, even at full load, inefficiency due to mixing is avoided and significant capacity-improving benefits are gained.

Consider this example.  At one company, their 40,000 sq. foot data center appeared to be out of cooling capacity.  After deploying an intelligent energy management system, not only did energy usage drop, but the company was able to increase its data center IT load by 40% without adding additional air conditioners and, in fact,  after de-commissioning two existing units. As well, the energy management system maintained proper, desired inlet air temperatures under this higher load condition.

Consider going smarter before moving to an additional equipment purchase decision.  Savings become even larger if you consider avoided maintenance costs for new equipment, and energy reduction through more efficiently balanced capacity loads, year-over-year.