Most server and storage computers sit in rooms cooled to a brisk 64 to 69 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 21 C), an effort to avoid hot spots that might cause equipment to malfunction. All that air conditioning contributes to electricity costs of $26 billion a year. The facilities use 1.5 percent of the planet’s power, and that’s set to double by 2014, Intel says.
By using new software and hardware to get a more detailed picture of what’s hot and what’s not, data centers can spread work around to different computers to keep them cool, says Jay Kyathsandra, an Intel marketing manager. That approach, together with a range of other technologies sold by Intel, could let technicians eventually turn the heat up past 100 degrees. The challenge is convincing customers, which count on servers to keep their businesses running, that the approach is safe.
“For a long time people just kept the data center running at what’s comfortable for humans, because that’s our frame of reference, but servers can handle a lot more than that,” said Katie Broderick, an analyst at Framingham, Massachusetts-based research firm IDC.
For Intel, the new technologies may generate a fresh source of revenue and help keep computer manufacturers loyal. The Santa Clara, California-based company, whose chips run more than 90 percent of the world’s servers, cut its fourth-quarter sales forecast by about $1 billion yesterday. Intel blamed a shortage of disk drives.
Allowing the average temperature in data centers to rise by 9 degrees would cut $2.16 billion in annual power budgets, saving the amount of power Spain or South Africa uses in a month, according to Intel’s research.
Companies such as Facebook Inc. have already started operating some of their computer centers at higher temperatures, helping them save money. Intel wants them to go further. To prove the benefits of technologies it’s trying to sell, the company is running one of its own data centers in New Mexico at 92 F. The move has produced an estimated 67 percent in power savings, Intel says.
The approach would mean data centers don’t need air conditioning — outside air alone would do the trick — in more than 95 percent of the world, according to Intel.
Still, server owners are reluctant to dispense with cooling, fearing it might void the warranty on their machines, Intel’s Kyathsandra says. To allay those concerns, Intel is working with computer makers, including Dell Inc. and NEC Corp., to change their policies. Those companies now sell machines certified to operate at higher temperatures, he says.
More cooperation will be needed, says Mark Peters, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, an information-technology advisory firm based in Milford, Massachusetts. Moving to higher operating temperatures requires a commitment from other component suppliers, not just Intel, he says.
“Perhaps the likes of Intel have designed their chips to run at hotter temperatures without an increased risk of failure, but historical components haven’t done so yet,” Peters said.
Intel’s software and hardware will let customers monitor the amount of power individual racks of computers are using and how much work they’re doing, and then balance those loads out to keep that machinery working at its most efficient level. While current software allows monitoring of work levels and power use, it doesn’t help managers make changes on the fly, he says.
“What’s happening is you don’t have a good sense of what’s going on at any one point, so you might as well just cool things across the data center,” Kyathsandra said. “It’s a huge inefficiency.”
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