The Stack Archive Expert View

Is your data centre beach ready?

Wed 15 Jul 2015

For many, the summer months are a carefree time devoted to relaxation and enjoyment of all that the fine weather brings—the beach, the sunshine, al fresco dining, strawberries and cream, Wimbledon.

For data centre operators, however, the same period can be a time of stress and anxiety unless care is taken to mitigate the challenges presented by rising ambient temperatures.

A major concern is the health of a data centre’s power backup systems. High ambient temperatures can drastically reduce a UPS battery’s usable life, thereby impairing the equipment’s operation. It follows that UPS systems must be installed in a place where the local temperature can be maintained at a steady optimal level and can be adjusted to compensate for fluctuations in ambient conditions.

To this end, some operators choose to site their UPS systems in a separate room to the IT equipment they protect. This of course means that they have to pay for additional environmental control, cooling and fire suppression. As always in the management of mission-critical systems, uptime and availability are priorities but one must keep a persistent eye on operation expenditure (OPEX).

Data centres with layouts that use hot-aisle containment have the advantage of a computer room where the general temperature is maintained at a relatively cool level. The worst possible environment for a UPS is one with a fluctuating temperature. In hot-aisle layouts, where equipment in the racks is positioned so that the heat producing elements are directed towards an enclosed hot aisle, a UPS can be positioned effectively in the main part of the room without unduly risking the health of its batteries.

Regardless of where you place the UPS, if you do not invest in the appropriate environment, you will pay for it in terms of reduced battery life.

Careful monitoring of the UPS function is also essential, especially in summer months. Load bank testing, or putting a dummy load on the UPS to test its efficiency, is the best way to test batteries. Any faults can be identified and replacements installed before a catastrophic failure occurs.

To keep costs down, it is also advisable to monitor the cooling set points, or the threshold temperatures at which cooling equipment is adjusted to cater for a heavier load. In winter months, with cooler ambient temperatures, these can be set at a high level; in summer time they have to work a little harder.

Although the vulnerability of its batteries do make a UPS an item of particular concern, any equipment that is susceptible to overheating must be monitored in warm weather to keep it working optimally. Remote monitoring using a reputable DCIM (Data Centre Infrastructure Management) software tool necessitates a large up-front investment but offers the trade off of allowing ongoing monitoring to be performed by non-specialist staff. They can be alerted to sudden rises in temperature and can monitor and adjust the set points of all cooling equipment to achieve the optimal balance between data centre performance and keeping costs under control.

Whether or not you have remote monitoring, a specialist service provider is invaluable in helping you choose the optimal layout of your data centre equipment and helping you manage the appropriate set points for cooling equipment, depending on the load and the prevailing conditions.

It’s true that with a fair amount of preparation and good advice, even a data centre operator can enjoy the fruits of summer.

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