Can Data Centers Afford To Turn Up The Heat?

Running data centers at higher temperatures can provide energy savings and reduced operational costs.


Typically, when we discuss digital twin software for data centers, we highlight how engineers can use data center software to model complex thermals using physics-based simulation and find effective ways to cool IT equipment. However, there are compelling efficiency and cost-saving reasons for data center operators to actively seek to run their data centers hotter. But how can this be done without undue risk?

Pros of operating data centers at higher temperatures

Running data centers at higher temperatures can lead to energy savings and reduced operational costs. Cooling infrastructure can run more efficiently at higher temperatures. This could take shape in several forms, such as reducing energy consumption by using fewer compressors on a chiller. For systems that use free cooling, the warmer the data center, the more free cooling hours there are at your disposal. For direct or indirect free cooling systems, supplying warmer air means the facility can run without turning on backup mechanical cooling for longer.

tropical data center project in Singapore found that they could effectively run at higher temperatures. Due to the extreme humidity and high temperatures that come with a tropical climate, the project explored how feasible it is to run data centers hotter and found that for every 1°C increase in operating temperature, data centers can potentially benefit from a 2% to 5% reduction in cooling energy consumption. The Singapore government released a new sustainability standard for tropical climates based on the project findings. We discuss this example in more detail on pages 48-49.

Cons of operating data centers at higher temperatures

There are obvious risks with this approach. The most obvious drawback is that there is less time for temperatures to heat up before IT could be at risk of thermal failure. If you experience an outage when running your data center at higher temperatures, then the energy savings and reduced operational costs could mean nothing. In turn, the hardware replacement cycle may likely be shortened with this approach.

It is up to the operator to weigh the costs of shorter hardware replacement cycles and the risks associated with hotter temperatures against the energy savings garnered by running data centers at elevated temperatures.

Increase the heat safely with a data center digital twin

Sounds doable in theory, but how exactly can data center operators discover these cost savings and weigh the risks against the rewards in a safe environment? Data center digital twin technology provides a data-driven solution.

Cadence DataCenter Design Software and Insight Platform models complex thermals, cooling, and airflow using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation, which offers key insights into performance metrics. Managers can then use these insights to validate operational decisions virtually before physical implementation.

It is important to remember that even with the same total cooling, two different layouts can produce radically different results in terms of performance. Being able to visualize these performance differences in a virtual platform enables operators to safely test what the conditions would look like in their facilities and avoid stranded capacity because the new deployments result in elevated temperatures.

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