How I Spent My Summer Vacation

By Applied Air administrator
Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It has been a while since I have posted anything to this, I was not on sabbatical on some desert island...I have been traveling around North America talking to consulting engineers, contractors, and data center owners and operators. This posting just provides a few insights that I garnered over the last 2 months on the road.

First, the data center/mission critical market continues to occupy the minds and the design resources of many, many companies in the design community. It is clear that this is a market segment that is vibrant and all indications are that it will continue to be for quite some time to come. The latest issue of Datacenter Dynamics FOCUS indicated that the world is now consuming over 300 Tkwh annually to drive data centers, with the US consuming over 25 Tkwh alone. The consumption in the US is projected to grow over 9% in 2013. While this information points to a growing market it also points to the urgent need for improved operating efficiency in data centers.

Second, and related to the first item, is the lack of knowledge about new "best practices" in data center design. I have talked to dozens of engineers, contractors, and data center people who are not aware of the latest design guidelines from ASHRAE. In fairness, those guidelines were only officially announced a few weeks ago...but they have been rumored and discussed for about a year now. I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that education of the design community is an important, and ongoing, task. This has been reinforced to me over the last 2 months.

Third, for those engineers and contractors who understand and embrace the new standards, is the challenge of convincing the data center people to adopt those standards. This is less of a problem at the top levels of the data center company than it is on the floor of the data center. The IT equipment operators who live in "the white space" seem not to understand the allowable operating temperatures of the equipment that they manage every day. I have heard many different reasons for their reluctance to adopt the new best practices but I think it comes down to fear. Because of stringent SLAs the operators worry about losing any equipment for any period of time...even though there is mounting research that this fear is unfounded.

Fourth, I have heard of several cases where the local electric utility has started to put limits on the available service capacity for planned centers. In the US we are so comfortable with the idea that our electric grid can provide unlimited power that we forget that is not true. We have a fixed number of powerplants with only so much generating capacity. With the tremendous growth of data centers, and data centers with 300 to 500 watt per square foot electrical demands, there is a limit to what a utility can do. And timing is another element of the equation. A data center can be built in a matter of months...a powerplant takes years. So even when a utility sees the demand coming they cannot add capacity as quickly as the demand can be added.

So, these are a few observations from the last couple of months. Of course there is more to the story and feel free to comment on this post with any questions you might have. I will try to respond as quickly as possible.