From chimney racks to ARM chips – 2013 will be an interesting year

Technological trends are calling for a major rethink of data center engineering

8 January 2013 by Ramzi Namek

From chimney racks to ARM chips – 2013 will be an interesting year
Ramzi Namek, president of engineering, Total Site Solutions

The data center industry is entering an exciting year. Here are the eight things that in my opinion will make it exciting. The observations are based on my participation in past and present projects, discussions with clients and manufacturer reps, as well as overall research of the data center business.

1. Air v. water cooling: Air will have an edge
ASHRAE’s widening of the window of acceptable inlet temperatures and relative humidity in the IT environment is driving this trend.  For IT racks with low-to-medium-density applications (5-30 kW per rack), a tightly contained and controlled air-cooled system can keep the environment within boundaries of ASHRAE’s latest thermal windows and will be cheaper to design and less complicated to install and operate, compared to water-based systems.  Coupled with free-cooling possibilities, it becomes a serious energy saving opportunity.

2. Chimney racks: Gaining market share
Staying with the “Air” theme, chimney rack cooling solutions will have an edge over water- or refrigerant- based in-row cooling. Chimney racks can handle up to 30 kW per rack and are gaining popularity as they are easy to install and operate. Contemplate the steps and costs involved with designing, installing, testing and operating an in-row cooler and you will quickly see why the simpler chimney rack is gaining momentum.

3. The “standardized” modular data center: On the uptick
Design, procurement and installation of standardized modular data centers – including containerized data centers – will continue growing in popularity. The drivers here are shorter schedules, higher efficiency, scalability, repeatability and compact footprint.  At present, nearly every major IT-infrastructure company has some variation of a data center module to offer. More important is the change in users’ attitude: modular data centers are no longer shunned as a fad, and the circle of acceptability is growing by the day.

4.  Fuel cells: Dawn of an interesting concept
Fuel cells convert chemical energy to electricity through an electrochemical process between hydrogen and oxygen. They are a proven, but expensive, source of clean energy and are slowly entering the data center market, particularly with Combined Heating and Power (CHP) applications. They make economic and environmental sense in certain geographic locations, where utility rates are high, and state regulation encourages purchase of alternative energy (such as in California). Multiple large companies plan to implement fuel cells in their data centers today, so expect the masses to pay attention.

5.  Fluid submersion cooling: The stars need to line up
Fluid submersion cooling is a reasonable solution for high-density applications (30kW per rack and higher) such as high performance computing (HPC). One company immerses servers in a dielectric fluid bath after removing CPU fans and encasing the hard drive. Other companies encase individual servers or CPUs in dielectric fluid at the CPU level. Loads in excess of 100kW can be achieved with 90-95% energy reduction. Is this technology implemented in real life? Yes. Perform a web search on liquid cooling and also read Intel’s successful year-long beta test results.

6. Energy – kWh block bids: Sign me up (and fire that energy auditor)
More and more data center managers will engage specialized energy-management companies to source the lowest possible price on commercial energy contracts (supply-side energy savings). It works through an online reverse auction where sellers bid against each other on the lowest price – in this case a guaranteed energy block in kWh.  Why is this catching on? It is easy, transparent, and the savings are realized almost instantaneously, as opposed to the arduous verification, documentation and capital-intensive process that energy auditing (demand-side energy savings) involves.

7. DCIM (and less expensive monitoring) technologies: Gaining more “targeted” market share
Measuring and monitoring is a great way to control your data center. There are multiple approaches to doing it, however. We think DCIM is on an uptick for a privileged class of data centers (basically those that can justify the business case). Cheaper BYOM (Bring Your Own Monitoring) and IYOM (Improvise Your Own Monitoring) alternatives to DCIM will see increased market share for small-to-midsize operators who can rely on human talent and building automation systems to improvise their own software for recording, measuring and monitoring.

8. ARM chips in servers: Users may have to reassess power needs
ARM processors have thousands of transistors, as compared with x86 chips, which have millions.  Consequently, ARM chips consume a fraction of the power and have robust computational capabilities, suitable for the less-CPU-demanding cloud environment. Their business case is already proven, as they are used in nearly every mobile device. Once software challenges are worked out, ARM chips will find their way into the next-generation cloud-computing servers. Perhaps, designers and users need to reassess the next-generation facilities, as they will have lower power demands.

About the author: Ramzi Namek is president of engineering at Total Site Solutions

Views expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of DatacenterDynamics FOCUS.

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