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Dirt Equals Wasted Energy in Data Centers

Linda Hardesty

Dirt is the enemy of energy efficiency in data centers, according to Data Centre Alliance (DCA) Executive Director Simon Campbell-Whyte.

Unseen in data centers is an invisible threat caused by inadequate design, poor cleanliness practices, and sometimes, ironically, over-zealous cleaning. The contamination to servers, hard disks, connectors and air-cooling equipment caused by microscopic airborne particles and gasses can lead to excessive use of expensive energy and early mortality of equipment, according to DCA, an international industry association based in Europe.

The problem comes because the thousands of servers in a data center can consume tens or hundreds of megawatts of electricity, and while this is usually more efficient than computers in a company server room or office, most of it ends up as heat. That heat then has to be removed by continually circulating cold air through every server.

Corrosive gasses from exhaust fumes brought into the building through the air-supply and from standby batteries and airborne salt can corrode sensitive connections or cause short-circuits leading to failures and outages. If dust and other particles – including human hairs, dead skin, wool and artificial fibers – get into the servers they can clog-up the heatsinks on sensitive chips, causing local overheating and premature chip deaths.

Perversely, damage is also sometimes caused by over-zealous cleaning because equipment like floor polishers can cough up massive clouds of invisible particles as their abrasive wheels scour the floor.

Airborne dirt is not a problem that is visible in the short term, but many companies that deploy the latest energy efficient equipment for competitive advantage will find that advantage eroded over time as filters degrade and energy costs of cooling rise, according to DCA.

The non-profit DCA has tasked its internal Anti-Contamination Steering Group to distill the world’s best practices on anti-contamination in data centers and publish its findings in May.



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