A new software tool to help design data centres was given its first showing yesterday.

Virtual Facility reviews the design and management of both cooling and assets in a data cente as a whole. This has become increasingly important as the energy consumed and heat generated by data centre components has risen sharply, along with the cost of cooling.

Director of owner Future Facilities, Hassan Moezzi, told Techworld that Virtual Facility provides a common language that allows facilities and data centre managers to understand each others' requirements. Such a need has already been highlighted by industry figures, including APC's CTO and founder Neil Rasmussen.

According to Moezzi, the product would allow a data centre manager designing a facility to explain not just what the overall thermal load will be, but how much cooling will be required and where it should be sited. Often the only piece of information that a data centre manager (DCM) commissioning a facility traditionally gives a facilities manager (FM), whose job is to build it, is power consumption in watts per square metre. This, said Moezzi, is not detailed enough to design and build a thermally efficient data centre, especially since the facility will last 20 years or more.

Virtual Facility uses information about the thermal characteristics of servers and other data centre components, combined with computational fluid dynamics and an understanding of the underlying physics, to provide a 3D representation of a data centre. "We have an asset management system built into our software which includes a thermal model of each product, down to box level", said Moezzi. This, the company claims, means you can visualise airflow in a given space and design around it.

Such models are notoriously inaccurate when compared to the real world, but then some modelling is better than none. Techworld saw the system being demonstrated to the data centre services manager of a major international bank. Using the database of devices that comes with the package, a data centre manager can model the facility along with the racks and devices, including their positioning inside the racks. With cooling vents, air temperatures and cubic flows entered into the system, it then calculates where the air will flow and what temperature it will reach, using a moving graphical representation of the flows involved.

It can also model what happens when a piece of cooling equipment fails, or a server is moved, and compares the real data centre with its virtual representation. This allows the system to help keep the facility efficient, said Moezzi. "You can balance the virtual facility against the real facility, using sensors to make the measurements. At the operational stage, the operator can mimic what he does on day-to-day basis, such as moving equipment and airflow tiles around. You can then see what the results are in the virtual model," he said.

The bank's data centre services manager - who preferred to remain anonymous - said that Virtual Facility was the kind of tool that he needed. He gave the real-world example of a data centre in which he was involved where the facilities manager placed air handlers on each of four walls. "This resulted in a vortex of air in the middle of the room which forced hot air downwards," he said. He said that he and his team understood in theory why the cooling design was poor, but that Virtual Facility would have enabled them to prove that locating cooling outlets on opposite walls only was the better design.