Self-cooling servers set to become a hot commodity

Overheating problems in data centres or server rooms is the new hot topic that IT managers are struggling with.

Users can either invest in new cooling, monitoring and power equipment or retrofit their data centres to accommodate the servers.

The heating problems are the result of faster and denser systems leaving IT managers to make a critical trade-off and choose between speed and temperature.

But according to IBM and HP, the problem can be solved by a mixture of environmental controls and strategic thinking as opposed to purchasing more hardware or another air conditioner. In fact, solving cooling issues may be as simple as changing the direction of the server and its location.

Taking user concerns on board, vendors are working directly with customers during the design and build stage while still directing their R&D efforts to the next wave of self-cooling and temperature-aware appliances.

IBM xSeries brand manager Brendan Paget admits not everyone has the ability to create a raised floor environment.

"For customers without infrastructure we are looking at what we can do to the server rack itself, like a metal chassis that makes the rack a cooling device [thereby] taking the heat out of servers; we may add a water-cooled option or tap into an existing airconditioner water feed that customers already have in place.

"Air conditioning units will generally take care of any humidity problems but we are looking to bring out a rack with self-contained cooling. Overheating only became a problem six months ago when processors in Intel-based servers not only got faster, they got hotter too.

Paget cited one customer, production house Weta, which purchased 1200 blade servers and had to work directly with IBM to ratify power and cooling needs.

He said servers need flow from an airconditioning unit for heat to be exchanged either from behind the rack itself or from a false-floor scenario.

Hewlett-Packard director of industry standard servers, Tony Parkinson, said data centre and server room design is critical.

Parkinson said HP provides thermal modelling services to customers using a thermal imaging camera.

In some cases, he said it could simply involve repositioning air vents or staggering server deployment.

"For a data centre with high density, cooling is a concern - we don't see customers blindly adding servers until a fuse blows; we do a lot of work at customer sites to improve their data centre efficiencies without expanding capacity," he said, adding that in future customers can expect racks with cooling devices but until then will need to rely on savvy planning and design.

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