Keeping Server Rooms Cool

Modern servers generate an incredible amount of heat, courtesy of powerful multi-core microprocessors used to deliver the performance that businesses today demand. The situation isn’t improving with the shift towards converged infrastructure, which are servers packed with a dozen or more storage drives and integrated networking capabilities.

To help SMEs keep their server rooms functioning optimally despite the hot and humid environment in Southeast Asia, below are some recommendations based on how full-fledged data centres are operated.

Man pondering keeping server rooms cool

Get Cooling Installed

It is tempting to think that server will stay cool by themselves. While that might be true for sparsely populated server racks, companies do grow, which typically translates to the need for more servers over time. Moreover, servers operate around-the-clock, and the heat can build up quickly within an enclosed room if not properly dispersed through proper ventilation or active cooling.

Ultimately, prolonged exposure to high temperatures can be detrimental to the optimal functioning of server systems, particularly in hot and humid climates such as Singapore. The installation of a suitable air conditioning system is hence considered a necessity to keep server room equipment at an acceptable temperature range.

Sizing the Server Room

Server rooms for SMEs are probably better described as server closets. Though a larger room with fewer racks might work well when no active cooling is in place, the installation of a cooling solution works better in a smaller room due to the small volume of space that needs to be cooled.

Which brings us to the reverse scenario of having a large room with just one or a small handful of racks. In some situations, it might be better to construct a smaller room as a server room to keep the cooling bill down. The walls of this room can be made up of drywall and should incorporate a lockable door for security. Moreover, the organisation might also consider building a raised floor for neater cable runs and to ensure that electrical and networking cables don’t get in the way of good airflow.

Server room cooling system

Distributing Conditioned Air

Speaking of raised floor, a more advanced deployment might use a raised floor as a conduit to channel cold air to the bottoms of racks for distribution. This is less popular now but might be suitable for smaller server room deployments of a handful of racks.

The data centre industry needed something that is better suited for large deployments of servers though, and eventually developed the concept of a hot-aisle containment system. The benefits are well established by now, and range from increased cooling capacity, energy savings, enhanced reliability, and the elimination of “hot spots” within the room.

So how does it work? In a nutshell, a hot-aisle containment system entails the separation of hot and cold airstreams across different aisles of racks. This works because individual servers have powerful blower-style fans that draw in cold air from the front and expel hot air from the back.

You can read more about how a hot and cold air containment might be implemented in this APC by Schneider Electric white paper here (pdf).