Air Solutions for Data Center Cooling

Dec 26 2019
Data Center Cooling Systems
Air solutions for data center cooling are increasingly in demand these days. When we consider the rise in internet and cloud computing and the connected nature of the world around us, we know that the demand for computers and the internet isn’t going to slow down. If anything, it’s going to ramp up. Air solutions for data center cooling is a huge industry and it’s only going to grow. According to this website, it will be a market worth about $8 billion by 2023. And, of course, with tech companies being the majority users of such data centers, is it any wonder that they are using artificial intelligence to optimize air solutions in their data centers?

The internet and cloud-based systems are simply data centers with many routers that are very powerful. And, when we say these data centers are big, we mean humongous! Think about that and think about the fact that huge data centers have, sometimes, hundreds or more routers in them. Each of these routers is working twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Each router is generating an immense amount of heat and that heat is getting caught and contained in the building that houses the data center. If that heat is allowed to build up in the data center the routers will overheat and the whole system will eventually crash. That would be devastating for the business or businesses that rely on that data center. So, air handler solutions for data center cooling are extremely important, an integral part of any data center.

Now that we understand what a data center is, we understand that they demand big and powerful air handler systems. The air handler for the data center cooling is an extremely important decision when a company is in the planning and building stages of the data center. There are so many air solutions to choose from that it is very difficult to make the best choice for your organization.

Because of this, let’s break down some of the data center cooling technologies that are out there in order to make it more understandable. The following air solutions for data center cooling are among some of the most popular and recent.

You can find many solutions here.

Here is a quick list of data center cooling technologies:

  • calibrated vectored cooling
  • chilled water system
  • cold aisle/hot aisle design
  • computer room air conditioner (CRAC)
  • computer room air handler (CRAH)
  • critical cooling load
  • direct-to-chip cooling
  • evaporative cooling
  • free cooling
  • immersion system
  • liquid cooling
  • raised floor

This extensive list and some of the talking points come from this website and this website if you would like to check it out.

Calibrated Vectored Cooling

This type of cooling increases the efficiency of the cooling system. This makes it easier to build more beefy systems with more circuits. But, it also enables the data center cooling system to utilize fewer cooling units (i.e. fans).

Chilled Water System

This is exactly what is sounds like. It used very cold water to cool down the air that is brought in by the air handler. This means that they have to have a way of chilling the water in, more than likely, another building on the property. It is then pumped into the data center to cool the air. That air is then blown into the building and the data center cooling is then achieved.

Cold Aisle/Hot Aisle Design

When you walk into a data center, many times you will see the servers set up in rows of racks. There are aisles between the front and backs of each row. So, the concept in cold aisle/hot aisle design is to have the cold air brought in to the racks of servers on the front side. This then cools the servers and carries the hot air out the back of the rack where it is sucked up into the air conditioning intake. Then same hot air is then run through the air conditioning system and cooled again and then blown back into the data center to start the cooling process over again.

Computer Room Air Conditioner (CRAC)

This system seems to make the trade of less expensive equipment in exchange for less efficient operations. They are one of the most common air conditioner units on the market but they are also not the most efficient. I would think that this would be best for a small, start-up operation that doesn’t have a huge data center cooling need.

Computer Room Air Handler

This system of air solutions could be called a “geo-dependent” system for efficiency. What I mean by this is that depending on where the data center is this system might be more efficient because the computer room air handler system uses a coil that has cold water running through it. Then outside air is blown across the coils and cooled off. Then it is blown into the data center for cooling. The colder the outside air already is when it goes across the coils the less energy it takes to make it properly cool to do its job. So, if the data center is placed in a cooler part of the world it will be more efficient.

Critical Cooling Load

According to this website, critical cooling load is simply a calculation used to determine the ability of the equipment to cool a given area. This in turn ensures that the builders can install the appropriate equipment to service the air solutions needed for that data center.

Direct-to-Chip Cooling

In this type of cooling there is a plate attached directly to the servers key parts that need to be kept cool, most often this is the processor on the motherboard. Chilled water or coolant is then pumped across this plate to cool it and that cooling is then transferred through the plate to the processors to cool them. It is another form of liquid cooling.

Evaporative Cooling

This is no surprise but evaporative cooling uses water evaporation introduced to hot air to pull the heat out of the air. Water is used in the form of mist. This mist takes the heat out of the air and brings the temperature of the air down, thus cooling the data center. As far as air solutions for data center cooling is concerned, this one seems fairly useful.

Free Cooling

Long story short, this is the concept of using outside air to cool the data center. So, in whatever way they choose, they use outside air to cool the servers. To phrase it another way, it means that the data center does not use recirculated air to meet its air solutions needs.

Immersion System

As crazy as this sounds, this is the idea of basically submerging the servers directly into a special liquid that circulates to keep them cool. This liquid is called “dielectric fluid”. What’s so special about this fluid? It is non-conductive. In other words, it does not conduct electricity. This is what gives it the ability to directly touch the equipment itself.

Liquid Cooling

This one has been discussed above already. It is simply the ability to use water or a cooling liquid of some type to cool the data center or the servers directly. This would include several of the types of air solutions that we have already talked about earlier.

Raised Floor

This means that the servers are raised above the floor on a platform so that air can get beneath the servers. Then, the air is pumped into this space and around all sides of the servers to cool them. If using a liquid cooling system these pipes are placed in the space beneath the raised platform to move the liquid where it needs to go. This is one reason why they don’t place electrical wires and other such items in this area. Also, consider the fact that heat rises so you would want to put heat creating equipment below the servers. It is better to put those types of things above them.

Another really innovative way of meeting a data centers air solutions needs is by using what is called State Point Liquid Cooling. What this does is it takes evaporative cooling and flips it. What I mean is that it uses cold water to cool the air instead of using air to cool water. As it states in the referenced website, this system uses a membrane with separation layers to produce water in both cold and hot weather. This is then used to cool the air inside the data center. According to the referenced website, this system of air solutions can result in up to a 20% reduction in water usage.

In some data centers, they are using artificial intelligence and robots to monitor the heating and cooling of the servers in the data center. This is real-time information that engineers can use to pinpoint trouble spots. It would seem that it would also enable them to much more efficiently use the cooling system to achieve the desired temperatures inside the data center. This should, in turn, save energy and result in monetary savings for the company.

According to this article, some data centers have a robot (each server has its own robot) and it moves up and down inside the server cabinet. As it does this it is monitoring things such as temperature, humidity and etc. This tells engineers and technicians exactly what is going on inside the servers. Again, the value of real-time information cannot be overstated.

As the needs of data centers progress and as technology progresses many more inventions and new ways of doing things will be developed. This will, in turn, enable data centers to not only increase in size and capabilities but also efficiency. The ability to do more with less will be critical to environmentally conscious companies. The ability to reduce the amount of water used in liquid cooling systems will also be incredibly important. This is where dielectric fluid and State Point Liquid Cooling systems will be of great use. This, if I had to guess, will be the direction that companies will be looking in to meet their needs.

As a result of the massive cooling needs of data centers, a huge market has been created for not only designing and building the air solutions for these companies but also in supplying HVAC parts for industrial and commercial applications. Companies such as Nortek Air Solutions are positioned to be able to meet the need in this market. Check out their website. They can provide many solutions and answer many of your questions. When it comes to data center cooling there are so many options that it can be mind-boggling. What you may consider is breaking it down into types of cooling systems and then research each one. For instance, look at liquid cooling systems first like the chilled water system. Then maybe look into air-cooled systems like the hot aisle/cool aisle system. Then look at systems that do not fit neatly into either of those categories. This is just a quick way of breaking down your research so you don’t lose your mind.

When it comes to air solutions for data center cooling this article has clearly laid out your many options. These are the options that are among the most well-known. There may be others out there that would complement these. As always, make sure you do your homework and properly research based on what your particular needs are. Consult with experts in the field and get more than one opinion.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a great data center cooling system you have many options. From water-cooled to evaporative cooling to air cooling and even submersion in dielectric fluid, you can always find one that fits your budget and expertise.