Dell Pushes Fresh-Air Cooling With New Server Temperature Limits

Dell will now warranty several servers and other infrastructure equipment at 113 degrees for short-term use, a move that will make it easier for data centers to better leverage fresh-air cooling.

Dell is looking to enable businesses to better leverage outside air to cool their data centers by ensuring that select servers, storage and networking devices will work at a temperatures of up to 113 degrees for a few hours a day.

Dell officials said July 28 that the infrastructure products have been tested and warranted to run for relatively short periods of time at such high temperatures, which will give data center managers the chance to use fresh air to cool their facilities for longer periods of time, rather than having to rely on traditional chillers, which are expensive to run.

The announcement is part of a larger effort by Dell officials to help their customers reduce their rapidly rising data center power and cooling costs. It mirrors similar initiatives by other infrastructure vendors to drive up the power efficiency of their products.

Cooling expenses are becoming a larger overall cost in operating data centers, particularly as more systems-and more powerful systems-are being packed into tighter spaces. Businesses are looking for alternative ways to cool the facilities.

"One of the changes we've been seeing is fresh-air deployments," Eric Wilcox, power and cooling product manager at Dell, said in an interview with eWEEK.

Companies increasingly are using outside air for cooling. The challenge is to determine the best way to take advantage of it, particularly in areas of high heat and humidity, Wilcox said. Dell engineers looked at weather patterns in regions around the country, and also conducted a multi-year study to determine at what temperatures their systems could run, and for how long.

Until now, Dell was like other vendors, who warranty their systems up to 95 degrees. For these systems, Dell will warranty a number of its mainstream systems at 104 degrees for up to 900 hours a year, or at 113 degrees for 90 hours a year.

Wilcox said the numbers are deceiving; 90 hours may not seem like many, but few places will ever see 113 degree temperatures. Those that do, he said, will only see them for small periods during the day, and for few days out of the year. And for much of that time, data center managers that normally would run their chillers when temperatures hit 95 can now keep them off for a while even as temperatures rise to 113 degrees, which will save them money.

Wilcox also noted that the servers being warrantied are not specially-designed systems, but mainstream tower and rack servers. The systems are the PowerEdge R610, R710 and T610, as well as the PowerConnect 7048R, 7048RA, 8024, and 8024F networking devices, and PowerVault MD1 and MD3 and next-generation EqualLogic storage units. Dell power-distribution units also are included.

All the products have been tested, validated and warranted within the highest temperature and humidity guidelines as laid out by ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers). Some customers that already have bought these systems may be able to get them put under the new warranty, Wilcox said.

He said key reasons Dell was able to change the warranty status of the servers were the thermal designs of the systems and the thermal controls inside, which monitor the systems and adjust the fan speeds and frequency depending on the environment.

Recent data center deployments by the likes of Google and Yahoo are driving the shift away from chillers and toward a greater reliance on fresh air for cooling. In addition, along with ASHRAE's updated data center standards, the European guidance organization Institute for Energy has issued the European Union Code of Conduct for Data Centres, which urges systems vendors to raise their environmental limits and aims for future data centers that will no longer need chillers.

In some regions, where use of fresh-air cooling can do away with a chiller facility altogether, the result can be as much as $100,000 of operational savings per megawatt of IT and a reduction of about $3 million per megawatt of IT in capital costs, according to Dell.