Data-center giant Equinix has found a low-tech solution to high data-center electric bills: turn up the thermostat.
Guidance from the American Society of Heat, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends a temperature range for data-center servers from 59°F (15°C) to as high as 89°F (31.6°C). Equinix is looking at setting the temperature at 80°F (26.6°C), up from the current setting of 73°F (22.7°C).
This won’t happen overnight. Equinix called it a multi-year project, and says it will examine all of its 200+ data centers worldwide first. Equinix noted that ASHRAE’s guidance is more than two decades old and was designed around mainframes, not rows of x86 racks with hot aisles and cold aisles.
“It was easier to just flood the room with cold air. Then you could make sure that all of your equipment was going to be safe, regardless of where it was located. As we’ve evolved with our designs, especially around data-center layouts, we’ve gotten much better about [air flow management],” said Jon Lin, executive vice president and general manager of Data Center Services for Equinix.
He added that the hot air in data centers is largely confined to hot aisles where it is directed into the air-conditioning system, and it can also be contained by walls that block air flow.
The other reason Equinix is comfortable letting the temperature rise is that modern equipment can take the heat. “Equipment manufacturers have been have basically been creating and making sure that their equipment can handle much higher ranges than that temperature for the better part of 20 years,” Lin said. “The equipment that’s currently in our data centers has been well designed and well tested under higher operating temperatures.”
In addition to operating at higher ambient temperatures, Equinix plans to make greater use of pumping in cool outdoor air when feasible to reduce the use of air conditioning.
Cutting power usage also cuts operating expenses, but Lin said this project stemmed from an increased focus around sustainability, and just reducing power isn’t enough, Equinix wants to better use it.
“It’s not enough to just say we’re buying green energy. We also need to look at how are we using that energy and make sure that we’re kind of like delivering both maximum value for our customers but also that we’re that we’re kind of using as little as possible,” he said.