Upgrading cooling for data centres

Weatherite Air Conditioning, data centres, free cooling
Effective upgrading for data centres — Pat Gillan

There are various options to consider when it is time to upgrade the cooling capabilities of a legacy data centre, but in most cases refurbishment isn’t one of them — as Pat Gillan of Weatherite Air Conditioning explains.

Everyone talks about shiny, new, state-of-the art data centres — but what about all those legacy facilities that need their cooling replaced/upgraded/ increased.

Cooling equipment installed some 10 or more years ago within a comms room, server room or data centre will, in most cases, be coming to the end of its useful life and as a result could be creating problems for IT managers/FM maintenance specialist responsible for their efficient, continual, safe operation. A lot of this equipment may also contain a refrigerant that has now been prohibited for future use by EU legislation.

Many legacy data centres are probably cooled using CRAC (Computer Room Air Conditioning) cooling units. These traditional cooling solutions monitor and maintain the temperature and humidity within the IT white space, operating on a continual basis.

However, cooling technology for data centres has advanced considerably over the last 10 years. In addition, ASHRAE has set out a number of recommended standards and guidelines for the data-centre industry, aimed at delivering a more energy efficient, low PUE (power usage effectiveness) solution.

Efficient energy usage also plays a large part in any IT critical environment. As the cooling solution could account for up to 60% of a data centre’s energy costs, delivering a substantial reduction in cooling expenditure can only be good news for the data-centre manager.

So, what are the options when looking at improving/upgrading the cooling capabilities within a legacy data centre?

These 60 kW FreeTec replacement packaged, free-cooling units were manufactured for a leading telecoms company.

Option 1: refurbishment

Generally, the refurbishment of an old CRAC cooling system would require the replacement of most of the air-handling unit’s internal mechanical components, from the belt-driven fan/motor assembly to the cooling coil. Also, if it’s a direct-expansion (DX) solution, the compressor could be operating on a non-compliant R22 refrigerant which would need to be rectified immediately. The existing control system would also need to be updated. Other aspects would also need to be considered.

Consequently, unlike other commercial air-conditioning plant, which can be economically refurbished to meet current ‘comfort’ cooling demands, refurbishing legacy data-centre CRAC cooling units can be a very expensive operation and may not actually provide the most cost effective, energy-efficient solution for a legacy comms room/server room or data centre.

Option 2: replacement

This option provides an opportunity to actually replace outdated, inefficient capital plant with a more modern cooling system that will be fit for purpose — i.e. has the required cooling capacity to suit existing and, if necessary, planned expansion of the IT load.

Providing a ‘replacement’ solution also allows the data centre professional to consider a number of options — aimed at providing the optimum, long-term solution. Although the existing CRAC units could be replaced with new, modern alternatives, these would again be air circulation only and still have a limited cooling capacity. However, if direct replacement units were considered, they could be designed with dimensions to suit any site constraints, providing enhanced cooling capacity, plus they could incorporate energy efficient solutions.

Advances in cooling technologies for data centres have progressed substantially over the last few years which, in association with enhanced and environmental resilient IT chip design, has enabled the EU Code of Conduct and ASHRAE to recommend higher operating temperatures in data centres, permitting the application of cooling systems less dependent on mechanical compressors that was only previously possible in telecommunication rooms.

At Weatherite we have been designing and delivering made-to-measure IT critical cooling solutions for over 35 years. We appreciate the fact that every comms room, server room and data centre is different and that each requires a cooling arrangement designed to deliver the best possible solution, whether that be free cooling using ambient-air free cooling, direct or indirect adiabatic systems, in-row cooling or a conventional recirculation air-handling units.

This row of 50 kW outside air free cool, outside air units are at a Redcentric Tier 3 data centre.

Option 3: consider the addition of containment

The benefits of adding a containment solution are well documented and offer additional advantages, particularly within existing data centres. Our bespoke ‘AirBox’ containment solution is ideal for the mixed height and style of IT cabinets and racks prevalent in many legacy facilities and offers a flexible configuration to suit each individual data centre — ensuring the dedicated cooling air flow is directed to the IT heat, thereby eliminating conventionally incurred room losses and improving temperature-control efficiency.

The question of energy consumption is high on everyone’s agenda these days, particularly within the IT-critical sector. Any solution that can reduce mechanical cooling to a minimum, thus delivering substantial cost savings, needs to be carefully considered. Fresh-air free cooling and adiabatic cooling options can offer vastly reduced running costs — not only for the data hall itself, but also for controlling the heat output from the supporting UPS (uninterrruptible power supply) plant and maintaining the battery and electrical switch room in a stable environment. However, at Weatherite we always consider all the options and discuss these in detail with the client and its consultancy team before coming up with a recommendation.

Weatherite are experts in delivering replacement cooling solutions as well as new-build data centre application. We prefer to fully evaluate the existing facility and discuss in detail the aspirations of the data-centre owner and its team in order to propose the ‘right’ solution — one that will deliver a technically advanced, energy-efficient, reduced-maintenance and low PUE configuration.

We are one of the UK’s largest independent manufacturers of quality cooling equipment. Our ability to manufacture made-to-measure equipment, designed to suit each individual application, means the customer receives the best possible solution — supported by years of experience.

Pat Gillan is data centre sales manager at Weatherite Air Conditioning Ltd

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