Challenges In Intelligent Management Of Power And Cooling Towards Sustainable Data Centre

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1 Challenges In Intelligent Management Of Power And Cooling Towards Sustainable Data Centre S. Luong 1*, K. Liu 2, James Robey 3 1 Technologies for Sustainable Built Environments, University of Reading, United Kingdom 2 Informatics Research Centre, Henley Business School, University of Reading, United Kingdom 3 Capgemini UK, Woking, Surrey ABSTRACT *Corresponding author: Power consumption in data centres has been rapidly increasing and based on current trends this will inevitably cause major challenges for both data centre designers and operators. More than a decade ago, a standard server cabinet housed computers using single core processors drawing a low (5kW) amount of power. As each cabinet contained one or two computers the energy required to provide conditioned air was not a major concern for data centre operators. In contrast, in 2011, a server cabinet of the similar dimension can house up to 128 blade servers making them more densely populated therefore drawing more power and increasing heat dissipation per square meter. Due to the increase in heat dissipation the data centre cooling systems are at risk of being unable to adequately provide enough cooling. Both increased density in computer hardware and cooling demands are having a huge impact on power consumption. This paper examines the challenges data centres are facing regarding power and cooling management. It also makes references to the environmental requirements and specifications for data centres recommended for organisations based on best practices. We also look at one of the current practices for building a sustainable state-of-the-art data centre and finally present a recommended approach to reducing power consumption in cooling systems. Keywords: Data centres, sustainability, power, cooling, intelligent management 1. INTRODUCTION Data centres around the world are encountering power, cooling, space and environmental issues whilst supporting the growth of an organisation. Due to the demands of more processing capability and storage space data centres are on the verge of running out of floor space and consuming more electrical power than it can be supplied with. As IT equipment become more compact, they draw more electrical power per sq. feet. Data centres consume large amounts of electricity and it has been estimated that the total magnitude is believe to be between 1.5 per cent and 3 per cent of total electricity generated. In addition, the cost of powering and cooling IT equipment for three years is equivalent to 1.5 times the cost of purchasing server hardware (Brill, 2007). According to a report written by Sheihing (2009) the cost of powering data centres in the United States cost $4.5 billion and this figure is predicted to grow 12% per year. And, according to the Code of Conduct on Data Centres 1

2 Energy Efficiency (European Commission, 2008) data centres in Western Europe had consumed 56 TWh of electricity in the year If data centre power consumption follows the predicted unsustainable trend then there would be a serious power shortage as energy suppliers will not be able to cope with such demands. The management of power and cooling towards a sustainable data centre is a combination best practices, hardware and software. Best practices include following standards, guidelines and using the best approaches. Hardware involves the selection of the IT equipment to install in the data centre and software comprises of the technologies used for the management of power and cooling. There needs to be a balance between the three categories in order to achieve energy efficient and sustainable data centre. For example, a data centre professional might design a new data centre to include the best practices but must also consider there could be potential for the data centre to use heat reclamation technology that is further enhanced by a cheap software solution. In this paper, we will discuss the challenges of power and cooling in section 2, examine the environmental requirements and specifications in section 3 by exploring how the requirements have changed previously to help data centres reduce power consumption and better manage their cooling systems. Section 4 describes how a state-of-the-art data centre utilise best practices and standards to construct the leading sustainable data centre. Sections 5 present a recommended approach to the intelligent management of power and cooling, and finally conclude the paper in section THE CHALLENGE OF POWER & COOLING There has been a dramatic increase in the number of organisations adopting environmental sustainable policies in order to be environmentally friendly and ultimately reduce their operation costs. One of the key factors that are always taken into consideration when an organisation implements their strategy is reducing IT operation costs. Data centres rely on power availability and transmission capabilities, which are generally being affected by increasing demand for more computing power. In United States, the energy used by data centres had more than doubled between the year 2000 and 2006 as illustrated in Figure 1 below. 2

3 Figure 1 Past and Projected Electricity Use by Data Centres in the U.S. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2007) Figure 1 also shows predicted scenarios so that comparisons can be made on the future of energy use. Based on current historical trends, in the year 2000, data centre energy usage was approximately 30 billion kwh/year and in 2011 is predicted to peak over 120 billion kwh/year. Clearly the Historical Trend scenario is highly unsustainable due to the cost of maintaining data centre operation and the lack of power stations to provide enough electricity. Organisations would want to try to achieve the best practice or state of the art scenario, which is to significantly reduce their energy consumption. There are many challenges a data centre operator will constantly encounter due to the ever changing technology. Some of the common challenges include new system deployments or upgrades, scalability and life cycle costs. To elaborate on challenge of deploying new systems or upgrading them, in the past, when demand was not high it was very easy to commission new servers and add more CRAC units inside the data centre. The energy cost for powering and cooling servers was not a major issue for organisations. However, today s IT equipment is considerably more compact and delivers greater performance than a decade ago causing the power density to increase dramatically. Because technology is always advancing a data centre should be designed to be able to adapt and scale to accommodate these changes. But realistically, it is difficult to determine the numbers of years a data centre should be designed for knowing that in future high performance computing will always need more energy. The major challenge for data centre operators is how to cool densely packed IT equipment. A decade ago, a server rack s power design was approximately 5kW. This is expected to rise to 37kW by the year The more power each rack consumes, the more heat is generated. Essentially, including investments in advanced cooling solutions there has to be a trade-off 3

4 between maximising the floor space with many low-performance servers or have fewer and more powerful servers so that less floor space is used. The technical challenge here is how to deliver cooling to or how to remove heat from the IT equipment. We will consider the two solutions and the technical challenge involved in air and water cooling. Air cooling involves cooling the entire facility and server platform with air. This normally involves a direct expansion (DX) chiller, air-side economiser and fans all of which increases the energy consumption in a data centre. However, some of this equipment such as using an air-side economiser to exhaust hot air out of a data centre maybe costly and difficult to retrofit. They often do not have a good return on investment if the initial data centre design did not include this type of equipment. On the other hand, if a data centre was designed to maximise the equipment s usage they can be very efficient. The other limitation that affects air cooling and air flow to the server racks is the practical constraints in the existing design of a data centre. For example, if a data centre has a raised floor plenum height of 24 inches with under floor cabling system causing obstruction these will obviously set an upper boundary on the air cooling. It is difficult to determine the upper boundary in data centres due to the lack of real-time airflow values but instead data centre operators determine this based on their operational experience. As for cooling the actual server racks, the manufacturers typically provide airflow data to inform data centre operators how much cooling the server rack needs. Ultimately, the ability to optimise the data centres capacity to provide cool air and reduce power consumption is down to how it is configured, i.e. using hot aisle/cold aisle configuration (Wang, 2006), following best practices on placement and proximity of perforated tiles, and using blanking plates and cut-outs to prevent hot and cold air mixing. To further optimise the air cooling capacity containment doors and roofs are used for either the hot or cold aisle (U.S. Department of Energy, 2011). But all of these enhancements come at an additional cost and complication. The alternative, water cooling, aims to bring cooled liquid closer to the server racks. Water is a significantly better thermal conductor than air (Engineering Toolbox, 2011) and so it should be more effective at heat removal. There are several variants of liquid cooling ranging from chip/rack level cooling to liquid-cooled door that is positioned behind the racks. Chip and rack level liquid cooling are clearly the best solutions for removing heat especially from the CPU. But this type of solution is highly complex and expensive which would not be considered a mainstream solution but possibly for situations where many high performance server racks have to be densely packed together. Regardless of which liquid cooled variant is used there still needs to be some airflow to cool the other components on the server platform and for the actual heat exchange between server rack and the liquid cooling system. Liquid cooling solutions can be simply retrofitted into data centres with the benefit of a raised floor plenum but ultimately there is the potential risk of the fluids evaporating or leaking onto the IT equipment causing serious physical damage. As with all liquid cooling solutions there is 4

5 the additional cost of installing a leak detection system. There are many discussions (Ellsworth, et al., 2008; Sharma, et al., 2009) around the efficiency of liquid cooling as at the basic level in air cooling there is a heat exchange using liquid in the chillers. But with water cooling we are bringing that heat exchange closer to the racks to better cool the servers. But, as mentioned previously, there still needs to be some airflow to cool the entire server platform. 3. ENVIRONMENTAL REQUIREMENTS & SPECIFICATIONS Before 2002, the thermal designs for IT equipment was rather complex due to the lack of standards and environmental specification. Equipment vendors manufactured their products based on their own specifications so data centres generally had to accommodate varying environmental requirements, which made cooling and heat removal more challenging. Post 2002, data centres continue to accommodate products from different vendors. A technical committee formed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE, 2002) published Thermal Guidelines for Data Processing Environments that maintains an Equipment Environment Specifications, which is the recommended operating envelope and now a widely accepted standard for manufacturing IT equipment for data centres. This ensured that participating vendors manufacture their products within the specified design envelope therefore alleviating some of the cooling challenges data centres were facing. Furthermore, in order to help data centres reduce their energy consumption the Equipment Environmental Specifications had been revised as shown in table Version 2008 Version Low End Temperature 20 o C (68 o F) 18 o C (64.4 o F) High End Temperature 25 o C (77 o F) 27 o C (80.6 o F) Low End Moisture 40% RH 5.5 o C DP (41.9 o F) High End Moisture 55% RH 60% RH & 15 o C DP (59 o F) Table 1 Comparison of 2004 and 2008 recommended operating envelope In 2004, the temperature and humidity boundaries for IT equipment was initialised allowing manufacturers to test their products within that design envelop to ensure the equipment operates reliably within those boundaries as high operating temperatures may cause hardware failure or reduced reliability. In 2008, the recommend operating envelope was revised to help reduce power consumption. Although, this does not ensure optimum energy efficiency it does offer a window of opportunity to save energy in contrast to the 2004 version. This can be 5

6 achieved by lowering the air optimiser fan speeds or the DX (direct expansion) chilling units to allow the ambient temperature in the data centre to be raised. Improvements made to IT equipment such as variable fan speed offers data centres the flexibility to operate at the recommended temperatures. The temperature of the components on the IT equipment is affected by the ambient temperature and the component temperature tracks closely to the ambient temperature. For example, based on a scenario that the equipment uses a constant fan speed at max power an inlet ambient temperature of 17 o C would make the component temperature to be 40 o C and an inlet ambient temperature of 38 o C would make the component temperature to be 60 o C. Considering in this scenario that 60 o C is the allowable temperature range for reliable operation a variable fan speed can operate at a slow fan rate at lower temperatures to save energy. Between the inlet ambient temperatures of 16 o C to 25 o C the fan rate is on low and the component temperature remains at 60 o C but beyond 25 o C the fan rate increases to maintain a constant component temperature of 60 o C therefore not affecting the reliability of the components. Overall, a variable fan speed would have saved more energy during the 16 o C to 25 o C operation temperature in comparison to a constant fan speed. As with the temperature, raising the boundary limits for relative humidity could affect the performance and reliability of the components (ASHRAE, 2008). High relative humidity causes conductive anodic filament failure to printed circuit boards. In addition, high relative humidity and common atmospheric contaminants causes hydroscopic corrosion. Low relative humidity causes electrostatic discharge (ESD) and very high voltages can build up in very dry environments. In severe instances, ESD can damage sensitive electronics causing hardware failures. Following the standards and guidelines had initially helped data centres tackle some of the cooling challenges but as power density increased over the years the recommended operation temperature guidelines was revised to help reduce power consumption. As IT vendors continue to improve their manufacturing process and produce more durable equipment it is expected that the Equipment Environmental Specification is likely to be revised again so that data centres can further improve their energy efficiency and have more flexibility to how they accommodate IT equipment. 4. THE STATE-OF-THE-ART COOLING AND POWER REDUCTION 6

7 The efficiency of a data centre is measured by the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) metric (The Green Grid, 2007). PUE is a ratio of the total power consumed by a data centre over the power consumed by the IT equipment. The theoretical minimum PUE value is 1.0 which means for every watt of IT power, no additional watt is consumed for cooling or distributing power to the IT equipment. The report to the U.S. Congress (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2007) listed four categories of data centre efficiency as shown in table 2 below. Scenario Current Trends Improved Operations Best Practices State-of-the-Art PUE Table 2 Data Centre Efficiency Targets (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2007) In July 2010, the industry average data centre PUE measurement was 2.5 (Miller, 2010). During 2010, IT firm Capgemini constructed a new highly resilient (Uptime Institute, Tier 3 certified) data centre called Merlin (Capgemini, 2010), which achieved a PUE of 1.11 largely driven by its use of fresh air cooling within a modular approach. Other factors contributing to the industry leading PUE and sustainability credentials included its location which enabled the use of fresh-air cooling, and its use of renewable and reusable components. Merlin can accommodate up to 12 modular data halls within a 3,000m 2 brown-field warehouse. Each module has the capability of housing 104 racks. Figure 4 illustrates the floor plan of one of the data centre module. The centre design had followed the approach of a front-to-back configuration to ensure the separation of hot and cold air. Rather than using an under floor plenum to supply cold air and letting hot air naturally rise to the ceiling, the module is on a single floor with the cold air supply contained and fed directly to the front of the cabinets while the hot air is ducted and circumvented directly away to the Air optimiser or exhausted out of the module. Essentially, both cold air and hot air are contained and ducted directly to and from the IT equipment to maximise the module s potential in delivering cool air and removing heat from the source. Air temperature, humidity and velocity sensors are located in each cold aisle and are connected to a building management system (BMS). The cold aisles have doors with louvers which the BMS sets to control how much cold air should be supplied to each of the four cold aisles. Ultimately energy is saved through the use of 12 variable speed fans which are adjusted by the BMS to meet the server cooling demands. The climate controlled Module positioned at left side of the module is controlled by the BMS which supplies air at the right temperature. Because this is a modular data centre, if required, another Module could be attached to the right side to supply cold air. 7

8 Figure 4 Merlin data centre module floor plan (Capgemini, 2010) Merlin s use of free fresh air cooling carefully channelled through the IT equipment is critical to it achieving its low PUE. 5. RECOMMENDED COOLING METHODOLOGIES As mentioned in the introduction, achieving a sustainable data centre is a combination of best practices, hardware and software. Data centre professionals design the infrastructure based on best practices, guidelines and standards but ultimately for the purpose of distributing power to the IT equipment and to provide an environment specifically for cooling high performance computers. Clearly, there has been major advancements in all three categories: best practices are starting to include the use of free cooling to supply cold air or photovoltaic panels for generating electricity on-site, variable speed fans on server components or water cooling heat sinks pre-built onto the processors for quick and easily installation, and intelligent BMS software for climate control. In future work, we will examine the optimal density of server racks and how it affects the whole cooling process, energy consumption, total cost of ownership and data centre design in general. This paper discussed the challenges of cooling a data centre and the standards or practices involved which raises the research question how close should the server racks be installed together in both air and water cooling solutions; are organisations willing to upgrade to a more powerful server if they knew this would help tackle the challenge of power and cooling in data centres thus reducing their total cost of ownership. 8

9 We will also research the use intelligent agents to improve power distribution and cold air delivery to the IT equipment. There is a lot of research into the use of intelligent agents or multi-agent systems for building control with the emphasis of minimising energy consumption and provide a comfortable environment for human users (Duangsuwan & Liu, 2009; Wang et al., 2010; Wang et al., 2010). However, there appears to be a gap in this field where intelligent agents are not applied to industrial buildings that do not accommodate human users but only IT equipment. There is a lot of potential where building control in data centres could be optimised or made intelligent and giving it the ability to learn to improve power consumption and cooling systems. The following steps will require a survey as to why data centres has not explored the use of intelligent agents and how intelligent agents could be a possible solution to help tackle the on-going challenge of managing power and cooling. 6. CONCLUSION Data centres are increasingly becoming challenging to maintain due to the increasing density of IT equipment, the difficulties in heat dissipation and heat removal from the source. Organisations are usually constrained by their existing data centre facilities and therefore are looking for cost effective solutions to ensure their IT services can be maintained at a lower cost using less energy and minimising the amount of carbon emissions produced. Designing a sustainable data centre is a combination of best practices, hardware and software. The business challenge across the data centre industry is trying to keep energy expenses and carbon emissions low whilst maintaining a reliable service and delivering increasing demands for computing power. As technology continues to decrease in size, increased performance will be more densely packed to each server rack requiring more energy and generating more heat. Both air and water cooling solutions have technical challenges and limitations. When trying to improve the cooling system in an existing data centre, there is the risk of the equipment not performing to expectations due to incompatibility with the data centre design. The existing infrastructure and the initial design considerations (e.g. the choice of height for the under floor plenum) will have already determined the upper boundary (in terms of heat dissipation) and lifespan of the data centre. It then becomes a question of how long before IT equipment reaches the data centre s upper boundary when it can no longer deliver sufficient cooling and therefore forcing an organisation to consider building an additional data centre. The environmental specifications for data centres were first defined in 2004 when data centre designers and IT vendors voluntarily participated in using the standard to help reduce the challenge of power and cooling. In 2008, the specifications were revised. IT hardware vendors are now manufacturing more durable hardware which allows data centre operators to 9

10 raise the ambient temperature and humidity levels inside its data centres enabling the reduction of power consumption and carbon emissions. It is expected the specifications will be revised again in the near future as IT vendors manufacture more durable hardware able to handle hotter environments. The state-of-the-art data centre constructed by Capgemini has achieved a world leading PUE of 1.11 by innovatively designing a modular data centre combined with best practice air handling enabling free fresh air cooling. Data centres continue to improve through the various ways of utilising best practices and approaches, and being selective about the IT equipment deployed. Future work will involve researching the optimal density of server racks and the use of intelligent agents for building control in data centres. REFERENCES ASHRAE, 2004, Thermal Guidelines for Data Processing Environments, ASHRAE Publication. ASHRAE, 2008, 2008 ASHRAE Environmental Guidelines for Datacom Equipment Expanding the Recommended Environmental Envelope. Brill, K. G., 2007, Data Center Energy Efficiency and Productivity, White Paper, The Uptime Institute, Inc., The Uptime Institute Symposium 2007: The Invisible Crisis in The Data Center: How IT Performance is Driving the Economic Meltdown of Moore s Law. Capgemini 2010, A Closer Look at Merlin Technical specifications for the world s most sustainable data centre, Capgemini UK. Duangsuwan, J. & Liu, K., 2009, Normative Multi-Agent System for Intelligent Building Control, 2009 Pacific-Asia Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Software Engineering, IEEE, /09. Ellsworth, M. J., et al., 2008, The Evolution of Water Cooling for IBM Large Server Systems: Back to the Future, 11 th Intersociety Conference on Thermal and Thermomechanical Phenomena in Electonic Systems, ITHERM 2008, European Commission, 2008, Code of Conduct on Data Centres Energy Efficiency Version 1.0. Miller, R., 2010, How A Good PUE Can Save 10 Megawatts, Data Center Knowledge, 13 th September 2010, [online] Available at: centerknowledge.com, [accessed: 29/5/2011]. 10

11 Scheihing, P., 2009, DOE Data Center Energy Efficiency Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Sharma, R., et al., 2009, Water efficiency management in datacenters: Metrics and Methodology, IEEE International Symposium on Sustainable Systems and Technology 2009, ISSST 09, The Green Grid, 2007, The Green Grid Data Center Power Efficiency Metrics: PUE and DCIE, Technical Committee White Paper. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2007, Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency Public Law , ENERGY STAR Program, August 2, Wang, D., 2006, Cooling Challenges and Best Practices for High Density Data and Telecommunication Centers, Proceedings of HDP 06, IEEE, /06. Wang, Z., et al., 2010, Multi-Agent Control System with Intelligent Optimization for Smart and Energy-Efficient Buildings, IECON th Annual Conference on IEEE Industrial Electronics Society, IEEE, /10. Wang, Z., et al., 2010, Multi-Agent Intelligent Controller Design for Smart and Sustainable Buildings, Systems Conference, th Annual IEEE, IEEE, /10. Engineering Toolbox, 2011, Thermal Conductivity of some common Materials and Gases, The Engineering ToolBox, [online] Available at: [accessed: 29/5/2011]. 11

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