James Kirkwood, head of critical services at EkkoSense, warns that many data centres are failing to follow best practice. Without a precise thermal monitoring strategy, and the technologies to support it, organisations will remain at risk
At a time when global data centre facilities are being asked to scale their activities, it is imperative that operators have both the capacity and the resilience to support increased volume requirements.
However, when EkkoSense recently analysed some 128 UK data centre halls and more than 16,500 IT equipment racks as part of an industry survey into data centre cooling, the results revealed that eight out of 10 UK data centres currently were not compliant with current best practice ASHRAE thermal guidelines.
The ASHRAE standard – published in the organisation’s Thermal Guidelines for Data Processing Environments – 4th Edition – is highly regarded as a best practice thermal guide for data centre operators, offering clear recommendations for effective data centre temperature testing.
ASHRAE suggests that simply positioning temperature sensors on data centre columns and walls is no longer enough, and that data centre operators should – as a minimum – be collecting temperature data from at least one point for every 3m to 9m of rack aisle. ASHRAE also goes on to suggest that unless components such as IT racks actually have their own dedicated thermal sensors, there is realistically no way for them to stay within target thermal limits.
Organisations at risk
Unfortunately, the problem for the majority of data centre operators that only monitor general data centre room/aisle temperatures is that average measurements can never effectively identify hot and cold spots. Without a more precise thermal monitoring strategy, and the technologies to support it, organisations will always remain at risk – and ASHRAE non-compliant – from individual racks that lie outside the recommended range.
ASHRAE’s recommendations speak directly to the risks that data centre operators face from non-compliance, and almost all operators use this as their stated standard.
The EkkoSense research revealed that 11% of IT racks in the 128 data centre halls surveyed were actually outside of ASHRAE’s recommended range of an 18-27º C recommended rack inlet temperature – even though this range was the agreed performance window that clients were working towards.
The survey also found that 78% of data centres had at least one server rack that lay outside that range – effectively taking their whole data centre outside of thermal compliance.
This latest EkkoSense research follows on from other recent findings that suggested current average cooling utilisation levels for UK data centres is just 34%.
This study also found that less than 5% of data centres are actively monitoring and reporting individual rack temperatures and their compliance.
This means that the majority of data centre operators simply have no way of knowing if they are actually truly compliant with best practice thermal management guidelines. And that’s a major concern when it comes to data centre risk management.
IoT-enabled temperature sensors solve the problem
Given that UK data centre operators continue to invest significantly in expensive cooling equipment, I believe the cause of ASHRAE non-compliance is not one of limited cooling capacity but rather the poor management of airflow and cooling strategies. That’s why the introduction of the latest generation of Internet of Things-enabled temperature sensors – introduced since the initial publication of ASHRAE’s report – is likely to prove instrumental in helping organisations to cost-effectively resolve their non-compliance issues.
The issue could be addressed by combining innovative software and sensors to help data centres gain a true real-time perspective through the modelling, visualisation and monitoring of thermal performance.
Using the latest 3D visualisation techniques and real-time inputs from Internet of Things sensors, it is possible – for the first time – to provide data centre operators with a 3D real-time picture of their data centre environment’s physical and thermal dynamics.
By tracking rack-level temperatures using thermal monitoring technology, and applying an optimisation process, ASHRAE non-compliant data centres can be returned to a compliant state. However, once compliant, the key is to maintain that status through a programme of regular ASHRAE audits.