Running data centers cost-efficiently at elevated temperatures

By Paul Steeves, Jon Fitch and David Moss

In a live demonstration, Dell advances an effective Fresh Air capability to help avoid conventional cooling costs in data centers.

The Dell Fresh Air Hot House
IT organizations have been wrestling for years with a thorny catch-22. First they pay to power the data center. Then they pay again to dissipate the heat generated by the very same power. New environmental regulations and rising energy costs only exacerbate the problem. Today, organizations need to squeeze the utmost performance from every watt of energy their data centers use, and yet they have to do so within constrained budgets. Dell helps IT organizations meet these challenges through leading-edge research and development that enhances many Dell™ systems components to help improve power consumption, cooling and airflow.

Minimized cooling requirements

The Fresh Air initiative at Dell offers a working response to energy consumption and cooling cost challenges that organizations often face for their data center operations. Modern data centers are typically run at much lower temperatures than are necessary. The Fresh Air capability for cooling servers is designed to allow organizations to minimize — or even eliminate — cooling requirements within their data centers. It enables organizations to take advantage of cool external temperatures, bypassing the need for compressor-based cooling for entire portions of the year. In some climates, the fresh air cooling helps avoid the need for compressor-based cooling altogether.

Over the last two generations, Dell systems have been developed for time-based excursion operation over a temperature range of 23 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) or minus 5 degrees Celsius (°C) to 113°F or 45°C1 and allowable humidity from 5 percent to 90 percent.2 This level of design robustness has been validated by tests indicating that the components can tolerate up to 900 hours of 104°F — or 40°C — operation per year and up to 90 hours at 113°F — or 45°C.

Deploying Fresh Air–compliant Dell servers, network switches or storage provides enhanced flexibility for the operational temperature in the data center, which is a best practice that helps increase energy efficiency and decrease operational costs. These tolerance levels not only help reduce everyday cooling costs, but they also offer significantly bolstered ride-through time to help protect mission-critical data in the event of a cooling system failure.

The Dell fresh air capability widens the number of climate zones where Capex from constructing a chiller plant could be avoided entirely.

The Fresh Air Hot House in action

Although many organizations do not intend or are hesitant to subject their production systems to the extreme limits of the tolerances specified in the Fresh Air initiative, Dell has set its sights on demonstrating this capability. IT managers and professionals can then understand that a noteworthy barrier has been crossed and discover how they can run their systems cost-effectively at high temperatures. They can also learn that running their data centers without air conditioning for an extended period of time is now possible.

Toward that end, Dell has constructed the Fresh Air Hot House, a live demonstration of its commitment to using fresh air for cooling a data center. The Fresh Air Hot House is an outbuilding — 8 feet by 10 feet — situated in the parking lot at Dell headquarters in Round Rock, Texas. It has no air conditioning; fresh air simply flows from vents in the bottom up through a fan in the roof. And Texas provides an apt testing environment because brutal Texas summers can bring extreme temperatures. For example, in 2012, Round Rock experienced 70 consecutive days in which high temperatures were over 100°F — almost 38°C — including a record high of 112°F — more than 44°C.

Dell is expected to run the following three Fresh Air–certified Dell PowerEdge™ servers in the initial installation: a PowerEdge R720 server, a PowerEdge R620 server and a PowerEdge R710 server. Fresh Air–compliant configurations are available for both PowerEdge 11th- and 12th-generation servers.

Real-time systems management

Because not everyone can come to Texas to see the Fresh Air Hot House in action, Dell is deploying the Dell OpenManage™ systems management suite to monitor power consumption in each of its servers. Dell plans to display status on a physical monitor in the Fresh Air Hot House and on a public Web site that details how the servers are handling daily temperatures. Dell OpenManage works in conjunction with Intel® Node Manager power management firmware to closely monitor and control the thermal status and power usage of the servers and their components.

An open window to cost-effective cooling

The Dell Fresh Air initiative opens up opportunities for IT organizations to dramatically enhance energy efficiency cost-effectively. Even organizations with conventional data centers utilizing chiller facilities can apply air-side economization, or free cooling, simply by turning off their chiller and using outside air to cool the data center. This approach helps avoid costly chiller- and compressor-based cooling when climate conditions are favorable. The number of free cooling hours that an organization can take advantage of is determined by the climate where the data center is located. It also depends on the temperature and humidity operational window, which is determined by the temperature and humidity range of the hardware inside the data center. As this window widens, increased hours of free cooling energy are available to the data center.

Paul Steeves is a Senior Marketing Manager for the Dell Enterprise Solutions Group. Jon Fitch is a principal reliability engineer with the Dell Enterprise Solutions Group and responsible for fresh air cooling research and development. David Moss is a power and cooling engineering strategist with the Data Center Cooling Infrastructure team at Dell.

Learn More
Dell energy management

A breath of fresh air for Dell PowerEdge servers
Discover the inspiration behind the Dell Fresh Air Hot House. View this video to hear Brian Payne, Executive Director, Dell PowerEdge server marketing, describe the origins of the Fresh Air capability in PowerEdge servers as he demonstrates the Fresh Air Hot House at Dell World 2012.

Innovative data center cooling
Organizations that leverage fresh air cooling in their data centers can realize cost reductions even in their own locales rather than situating data centers in specially selected northern climates. Download this white paper to learn how Dell next-generation servers offer the Fresh Air capability for enhanced efficiency.