Google has taken a radical new approach when it comes to cooling data centres. The search giant has opened a unique data centre in Belgium that has no backup chillers installed, but instead relies totally upon free air cooling to keep its servers cool.
Cooling is one of the most pressing concerns for data centre managers currently, as the equipment required to cool a data centre consumes power, and thus impacts on both operational costs and efficiencies. The importance of cooling was starkly illustrated recently when a cooling failure occurred inside a London based data centre, caused the servers belong to the music service Spotify to collapse because of the heat.
Chillers effectively refrigerate water and are commonly used in data centres. However, they require a large amount of electricity to operate. Many data centre operators are now looking to use the free air cooling that can be achieved from the natural environment. Yahoo for example recently unveiled a new data centre in New York that utilises a chicken coop design that makes use of louvre (or horizontal slates) walls to allow free cold air to flow into the area housing the computer equipment.
Usually sites of this nature would have chillers in place to act as backup cooling for warm days. But the Yahoo site, like the Google data centre in Belgium, has no chillers at all to cool the centre, but instead it relies totally on fresh air.
According to Data Center Knowledge website, the Google site near Saint-Ghislain, Belgium hopes to make local weather forecasting a large factor in its data centre management strategy.
Google's Saint-Ghislain site began operation back in late 2008 and apparently the climate in that region of Europe will support free cooling almost year-round. Google's engineers believe the outside temperatures will only rise above the acceptable range for free cooling about seven days per year on average.
Google is thought to operate its data centres at around 26° C, with average temperatures in that region during summer months reaching between 18.8 to 21.6° C.
When the weather does get hot, Google will effectively switch off equipment at the centre and instead transfer computing workloads to other data centres.
Some cloud experts have speculated whether this ability to shift workloads from data centre to data centre will result in "follow the moon" energy management strategies, whereby organisations take advantage of lower power and cooling costs by only using data centres at night time, rather than during the day.
But the free air cooling concept and the lack of a controlled climate within a data centre does have its doubters. e-shelter, which develops and operates its own data centres recently told Techworld that most businesses would not be prepared to accept the inherent risks in this approach.
It cites the danger of a fire upwind of the data centre site, because smoke particulates can cause havoc with hard disk drives. Another issue concerns dampness from heavy humidity, which can cause electrical problems.
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