I saw this recently on www.infoworld.com

 

You've heard about datacenters in shipping containers. But how about a datacenter in a tent? And in rainy Seattle?

Enterprises are pushing the operating parameters that server vendors recommend for factors like air temperature and humidity and finding that servers are often far hardier than they expect. The difference can mean significant datacenter operations savings.

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Microsoft recently found that a little rain, uncontrolled temperature, and even leaves sucked into server fans had absolutely no negative affect on servers.

In a small experiment, two Microsoft employees put five servers in a large metal frame tent outside. Christian Belady, principal power and cooling architect, and Sean James, facility program manager, ran the previously used but spare HP DL585 servers in the tent from November 2007 through June 2008 and had zero failures.

"While I am not suggesting that this is what the data center of the future should look like... I think this experiment illustrates the opportunities that a less conservative approach to environmental standards might generate," Belady wrote in a blog post.

Enterprises have long known that server vendors give very conservative operating parameters for factors like temperature. Vendors likely do that to protect their own bottom line, even though doing so may negatively affect their customers' bottom line. "They could certify them at higher temperatures than they probably do but they would probably see higher field failure rates," said Nik Simpson, an analyst at Burton Group. "The failures might not be significant to individual companies running those servers but it could be to the vendor having to replace the servers for hundreds of thousands of customers."

Microsoft is not alone among companies experimenting with pushing the limits in data centers. Intel recently published a study about a datacenter test it conducted that relied almost exclusively on outside air for cooling. Intel installed no humidity controls and only minimal air filters.

The test environment had a very similar failure rate to one using traditional air conditioning and humidity controls, Intel found. The changes could save $2.87 million annually for a 10-MW datacenter, Intel said.

Simpson expects to see companies like Microsoft and Intel that are building new Internet-scale datacenters continue to conduct such experiments because of the cost savings.

But such advancements may not affect small or medium-size companies that have their own datacenters. "For a lot of organizations, the datacenter is buried deep in a building, so there is no ambient air flow to use," Simpson noted. Many companies don't have the luxury of building a new facility in a handpicked location for their datacenters so must make due with existing facilities.

Both Intel and Microsoft said they plan further tests that, if they show similar results, will lead to implementations in their datacenters.