Top 7 Reasons Data Centers Don’t Raise Their Thermostats

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 DBIA, LEED AP BD+C, leads the Mission Critical Market for at JE Dunn Construction. You can find him on Twitter at @RonVokoun.

Ron Vokoun, GrayRON VOKOUN
JE Dunn

In 2011, it was with great fanfare that ASHRAE released its updated Thermal Guidelines for Data Processing Environments– Expanded Data Center Classes and Usage Guidance. The new guidelines created new classes of equipment ratings and corresponding wider ranges of operating conditions. Yet, here we are in 2013 and very few data centers are even raising their thermostats to the recommended limits prescribed by ASHRAE’s 2008 guidance.

Raising the thermostat is the single most simple energy saving move a data center can make, so why is it that they are so hesitant to do so? Generally speaking, raising the temperature setting 1.8°F (1°C) will save two to four percent on the overall energy use of a data center. What a great ROI for a simple flick of a switch!

As I often do when I have a question, I took to Twitter to find answers, or at least opinions. Specifically, I engaged Mark Thiele of Switch, Jan Wiersma of Data Center Pulse, Tim Crawford of AVOA, and Bill Dougherty of RagingWire in what became a spirited exchange of reasons why temperatures largely remain unchanged.

Without further ado, and with my apologies to David Letterman, I give you:

The Top 7 Reasons Why Data Centers Don’t Raise Their Thermostats

7. Some HVAC Equipment Can’t Handle Higher Return Air Temperatures

I will confess that I am not an engineer, but this one doesn’t make sense to me. I have been told by engineers in the past that the higher the return air temperature, the more efficient the system will be. I would be interested in hearing opinions, but until convinced otherwise, I’m going to call this one bunk.

6. Colocation Data Centers Have To Be All Things To All People

This one makes sense to me. Colocation providers can’t choose their customers, but rather they compete for them. If they have a potential customer that feels uncomfortable with the warmer temperatures, they will lose them to one of their competitors that keeps their data center unnecessarily cool. They also have to plan for the lowest common denominator in that many customers are still using legacy equipment that doesn’t fit into the ASHRAE standard classifications.

This makes me wonder if there might be the potential for a new colocation product. Given the energy savings, perhaps physically separated sections of the data center can be offered at a discounted rate in exchange for agreeing to operate at a higher temperature? This could be an attractive cost savings for a few enlightened souls.

5. Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt (FUD)/Ignorance

This one is very widespread throughout the industry. I am told that most colocation RFP’s from CIO’s specify 70°F (21°C). The industry is full of sayings like,” Nobody ever got fired for keeping a data center cold.” That may change if the CFO finds out how much money he can save by raising the temperature!

4. Intolerable Work Environment

I can say with confidence that I would not enjoy working in a hot aisle that’s reaching temperatures up to 115°F (46°C). With that said, construction workers in Arizona work in that heat every day during the summer. I’ll leave it to OSHA to say...

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