The Opportunities & Challenges of Working In Data Centers


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Simple things like swiping a credit card and storing photos on the network attached to your phone or computer are meant to feel seamless to end users but there is a great deal happening behind the scenes of every transaction. The true to key to making things like this work is data management and storage. This is why companies like Microsoft and Google spend billions of dollars researching and building massive data centers all over the world.

According to technologies infrastructure company, Emerson Network Power, In the traditional data center, approximately one-half of the energy consumed goes to support IT equipment with the other half used by support systems. This is where the HVAC industry comes into play.

Data centers consist of large numbers of data servers that are operated by computer (IT) equipment and all of that technology requires a huge amount of electricity. All of that (electrical) power generates an extreme amount of heat that has to be properly managed or damage to equipment can occur and cause outages.

It would benefit HVAC contractors to explain to potential data center clients that the 2011 National Study on Data Center Downtime revealed that the mean cost for any type of data center outage is $505,502 with the average cost of a partial data center shutdown being $258,149. A full shutdown costs more than $680,000.

An investment in a proper computer room air conditioning system (CRAC) is an investment that can far outweigh the cost of problems that have to be faced when equipment outages occur. Unfortunately, recommending a proper system is not always a simple situation.

There tends to be a battle of wills of sorts between HVAC professionals, owners of data centers, and the information technology (IT) team that they employ.

HVAC professionals focus on what will work based on their experience, data center owners focus on finances and IT professionals tend to believe that their professional experience in the industry qualifies them to make decisions in regard to how to properly cool the equipment they work with.

“IT guys think they know AC but what they really know about is the programming of the equipment versus how the system actually works,” explained Chris Bigalke of W.B. Guimarin and Company of South Carolina.”

As an example, Bigalke offered up two scenarios that his company recently faced that explain how important it is to take the time to properly educate the customer so that decisions can me made easier for all involved parties.

Scenario one: “The IT people demanded that the IT room have 200% redundancy, with lead/lag and two different makes of equipment that they wanted to communicate with each other. It was a nightmare dealing with a mechanical engineer, architect, IT, owners, and equipment.”

Scenario two: “We recently put two 30 ton Liebert’s into a data center expansion. There was lots of discussion about how to cool the units – water versus heat rejection units. IT was very nervous about having water in the DC. We had the option of using virtually free water to cool the unit, but had to convince the owners that it would be safe having water in the DC. Otherwise they would have needed to run long refrigerant lines from the DC to a heat rejection unit on the roof. That installation would have required roofers, lots of copper, cranes, refrigerant, heat rejection unit,  etc… versus just some black iron water lines to the indoor units from an already existing building cooling water loop. We eventually convinced them that the water would be underneath the raised floor and would not present a problem.”

Bigalke went on to further explain that in his experience, it is beneficial to have a data center facility manager involved in the decision making process to act as a sponsor or advocate for the HVAC service provider and act as liaison between the facility owner, IT, and the HVAC contractor to learn the concerns of all sides and help to advocate for the installation of a system that the HVAC contractor recommends for the specific case.

Another issue facing HVAC contractors is that equipment manufactures have a tendency to instill fear into decision makers by recommending a particular brand of equipment that is sold as specific to data center needs.

The manufacturer may believe that their solution is the only viable solution but an HVAC professional needs to be able to explain that while the recommended system is an option, there are other solutions available that would be more financially beneficial and practical. It needs to be explained to the customer that equipment the manufactures recommend comes bundled with required factory training. Not all solutions require that level of specific training. The training can be both expensive and require a lot of time.

“Bad thing is that the DC people are willing to spend much more money for the brand that is sold as specific to DC needs. There are others that will also do the job and are much more easily serviced and programmed,” said Bigalke.

All-in-all, recommending the correct CRAC (system) for a client requires an HVAC contractor to be educated on all available options to suit the unique requirements of the customer and an understanding of the issues and costs that can arise if an unsuitable system is installed.

Useful resource:

The following checklist published by Emerson Network Power for data center owners provides a guideline that HVAC professionals can tailor to their own needs and use to help educate DC decision-makers in a clear and straight-forward way. This will help to keep everyone involved on the same page.

Data Center Design Checklist-

  • Maximize the return temperature at the cooling units to improve capacity and efficiency
    Increase the temperature of the air being returned to the cooling system using the hot-aisle/cold aisle-rack arrangement and containing the cold aisle to prevent mixing of air. Perimeter cooling systems can be supported by row and rack cooling to support higher densities and achieve greater efficiency.
  • Match cooling capacity and airflow with IT loads
    Use intelligent controls to enable individual cooling units to work together as a team and support more precise control of airflow based on server inlet and return air temperatures.
  • Utilize cooling designs that reduce energy consumption
    Take advantage of energy efficient components to reduce cooling system energy use, including variable speed and EC plug fans, microchannel condenser coils and proper economizers.
  • Select a power system to optimize your availability and efficiency needs
    Achieve required levels of power system availability and scalability by using the right UPS design in a redundant configuration that meets availability requirements. Use energy optimization features when appropriate and intelligent paralleling in redundant configurations.
  • Design for flexibility using scalable architectures that minimizes footprint
    Create a growth plan for power and cooling systems during the design phase. Consider vertical, horizontal, and orthogonal scalability for the UPS system. Employ two-stage power distribution and a modular approach to cooling.
  • Enable data center infrastructure management and monitoring to improve capacity, efficiency and availability
    Enable remote management and monitoring of all physical systems and bring data from these systems together through a centralized data center infrastructure management platform.
  • Utilize local design and service expertise to extend equipment life, reduce costs and address your data center’s unique challenges
    Consult with experienced data center support specialists before designing or expanding and conduct timely preventive maintenance supplemented by periodic thermal and electrical assessments.
Ruben Porras

Posted In: Commercial Buildings

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