Data Center Cooling 101

Why Is Cooling So Important for Data Centers?

Whether you are aware of it or not, data centers play an essential part in our everyday lives. Anytime you visit your favorite sites like Google, Facebook, and YouTube, you are retrieving data from one of these data centers. Data center cooling is critical to the operations of these 24/7/365 facilities.

In simple terms, data centers consist of numerous computers stacked together. These computers work nonstop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at extremely high rates. Most of us have experienced our laptops or desktops getting hot from getting overworking. The same is true with the computers in data centers, but the heat these computers produce is far greater.

Cooling is extremely important when it comes to data centers because of the computers high usage rate. This article will explore the basics on how data centers are cooled.

data-center-cooling

Photo Source: Raritan

Is Cooling a Data Center the Same as Cooling My Home?

There is a similarity in the way our home is cooled by an air conditioner, and one of the main methods of how a data center is cooled. This is called evaporative cooling (which we will discuss more in depth in the next section). When a liquid evaporates it feels cool. If you put a liquid onto your skin, it cools you down as it evaporates.

Evaporative cooling in a data center and in your home works very similarly. In simple terms, there is a refrigeration cycle that happen in a evaporative cooling system that helps cool both your home and data centers that use this method.

evap-cooling

Photo Source: Condair

A similar method of evaporative cooling is one way to cool a data center.  Although evaporative cooling is a widely used method to cool a data center—it is certainly not the only way.

The Different Cooling Strategies Used in Data Centers

There are typically two main ways to cool a data center, which is air-based cooling and liquid-based cooling. Within these categories are various methods. We will highlight all of the different cooling strategies that data centers employ.

cold-aisle-hot-aisle

Photo Source: Colocation America

The most common air-based cooling method is known as the “cold aisle/hot aisle method”. This method separates the cold air away from the hot air. This is simply done by facing the cold sides away from hot sides creating something similar to a convection system enabling the cabinets to cool themselves. If this sounds too good to be true—you’re right. This method doesn’t work 100% of the time, which is why cold air has to be pumped into the data center rooms.

hot-aisle-cold-aisle-containment

Photo Source: Colocation America

What is a CRAC Unit?

The next method called “cold or hot air containment”, which is related to “cold aisle/hot aisle” method but improves it. Taking a proactive approach on truly separating the cold air and hot air does this. The way that this is accomplished is by physically driving out the hot air with compressors and chillers built into the data center server racks.

cooling-tower

Photo Source: Uptime Institute

One of the older ways to cool a data center (which we discussed earlier) is “Evaporative cooling”. Evaporative cooling or swamp cooling works by having a wet pad or filter. Surplus heat dissolves into these pads, and as it evaporates it cools down the data center. This simple system doesn’t necessarily need a compressor like most methods.

water-cooled-racks

Photo Source: DJC Oregon

The next method of cooling a data center falls under liquid-based cooling. “Water-cooled racks and servers” use cold water to cool along the hot side of the cabinet. Since water conducts electricity—the water will never touch the components of the servers. Water is contained in large basins and flows through pipes and is cooled by a tower pump. The cold water then flows alongside the cabinet behind a barrier.

liquid-immersion-cooling

Photo Source: Data Center Frontier

Another method, and maybe the most exciting is known as “Liquid immersion cooling”. Instead of water running alongside the cabinets behind a barrier, the servers are fully emerged into a special dielectric fluid that cools the entire server. This dielectric fluid flows across the hot components of the server and brings the temperature down. This method prevents hot spots from occurring.

“Cool” New Innovations

If this method is too intimidating, but the data center is having trouble with hotspots—a new data center cooling robot called the One Neck Robot may be the answer. The sensor is placed inside of the rack and moves up and down detecting hot spots. The robot then alerts the manager through their smart device of choice. A data manager can also check the heat and humidity levels without as they please. This new technology is more efficient for the data center because they are only cooling specific areas that need it the most. This helps save energy.

one-neck-robot

Photo Source: Data Center Knowledge

Now that we’ve mentioned efficiency, Artificial Intelligence is another innovation being used by data centers to help them be more effective. Data Center Knowledge reports on average data centers use 75 percent more cooling than needed. Artificial Intelligence uses smart cooling and machine learning to read temperatures and processes that data in real time. Vigilent is one of the many companies that are using AI help cool data centers.

vigilent-influence-map

Photo Source: Vigilent

Conclusion

There are some aspects of cooling a data center that are the same with cooling your home—evaporative cooling. But there are many other ways that data centers use to keep all of your data from burning up in flames. And new innovations are making it even easier and more efficient for data center managers, which is great for our environment.  

This post was written by Michael Isberto who is the Blog Director and Content Writer for Colocation America. He received his B.A. in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Public Relations at CSUSB. Isberto is a Communication professional with additional experience in Public Relations, Marketing, and Social Media.

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