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Designing Data Centers as Thermos Bottles

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Over the last couple of months since my last posting I have been very busy managing our movement into new markets and grasping at new opportunities.  One of the benefits of taking the deep dive into these markets is getting to look at some of the details of product design and application to the specific problem to be solved. 

This has raised a question in my mind.

Why does the mission critical industry design "thermos bottles" and then fret over the cost of and methods of getting rid of the heat that all those servers generate? 

There is something that strikes me as illogical about creating buildings or modular data centers with super insulated walls and ceilings that are guaranteed to trap the heat that is dumped into the hot aisle (assuming they have aisle separation).  Then the mechanical system is tasked with rejecting all of the pent up energy without costing the owner a fortune.  Is it any wonder that data centers are one of the largest consumers of electrical energy in the world?

Centuries ago architects and designers figured out that it is more efficient to cool a space if you simply dump the heat out to the atmosphere.  Buildings used to be designed to take advantage of stratification and stack effect to cause the hot air generated in the space to rise and leave the building.  No need to cool the air back down to a reasonable temperature and put it back into the space so that you can heat it all up again.  Lofted ceilings and roof lines came into the design world for a reason. 

So, why is the data center different?  Frankly, I don't know.  Why not take the hot aisle air and vent it out to the atmosphere?  Sure, you have to replace that exhausted air with new air from the outside but unless the data center is located in Death Valley the odds are that the air being brought into the building is at a lower temperature than the air that would be recycled from the hot aisle of a data center designed to operate under the latest ASHRAE TC 9.9 guidelines for best practices. 

My best guess why we continue to do what is intuitively illogical is inertia.  "We have always done it that way".  I think it is time to rethink the old ways and come up with creative solutions in the design of data centers.