Top 5 Data Center Environmental Standards and Concerns

JUNE 5TH, 2015

Coordinating a data center design project? Good luck. You've got your work cut out. Among the many items on your plate of challenges is making sure the facility itself provides an ideal environment for the rigorous grind of everyday IT. While not all IT shops are set up in state of the art fortresses, adhering to data center environmental standards is essential to creating ideal conditions in Tier-3 certified buildings and server closets in small offices alike.

1. Temperature Control

As it turns out, heat may not be the ferocious data center threat it's made out to be. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto found that servers don't necessarily fail in higher temperatures and increasing heat can actually cut the energy consumption associated with cooling equipment. Those findings correlate with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers' (ASHRAE) decision to broaden its recommended range for data center temperatures from 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit to 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

On a side note, it's also possible to control how data center temperatures affect equipment by investing in specific types of server hardware. Dell and other manufacturers recently introduced a new breed of heat-resilient servers that are designed to run in environments roughly 10 degrees hotter than normal. Additionally, engineers can optimize internal server fans in a way that helps protect equipment by automatically adjusting to noticeable temperature changes in the facility.

2. Humidity Control

Data centers work hard to combat heat. They probably work even harder to keep humidity under control. Bigger facilities use a gaggle of CRAC units to create a consistent airflow that streams throughout the room. These systems generally work by pulling in and cooling heat, then pushing it out as cold air through the vents and intakes that lead to the servers. As referenced in the above link, ASHRAE recommends a dew point level range of 41.9 degrees Fahrenheit to 59 degrees Fahrenheit with a maximum relative humidity of 60 percent.

I've heard the argument that data center humidity isn't the big deal it's made out to be, either. Maybe, but being cozily situated on the safe side never hurt anything. Too high of a humidity level can form water that puts server hardware and other equipment at risk. In addition to CRACs and chillers, data center designers should invest in systems that can detect humidity and water in the vicinity of their equipment.

3. Static Electricity Monitoring

Unknown to many, static electricity is one of the biggest threats in the data center environment, an invisible nuisance you likely won't see or hear coming. In fact, the sensitive components in common IT equipment, particularly newer harder, can be damaged or completely fried by less than 25 volts of discharge. If this problem isn't addressed, it might result in frequently dropped calls, system crashes, and even data corruption. Luckily there is equipment available to monitor static electricity. These systems should be strategically installed in locations where charges are potentially the largest.

4. Fire Suppression

Data center environmental standards dictate that a comprehensive fire suppression system is a must-have feature. Just ask Amazon. In January of 2015, the e-commerce giant was the victim of a fire at its new facility in Ashburn, Virginia, which was under construction at the time. The blaze apparently started on the roof, but fortunately there were no injuries and development of the building reserved for Amazon Web Services was barely affected.

Incorporating a quality fire protection system is merely one part of the plan. The other is the ongoing process of making sure it still works. Of course you never want one of these things to have to spring into action, but the peace of mind you gain from knowing that it can when needed is invaluable. Instead of sitting idle, fire suppression systems should be periodically tested and actively monitored to ensure they will indeed come through in the clutch.

5. Physical Security Systems

Data center environmental standards place a huge emphasis on physical security, and rightfully so. In this setting, operators must devise a plan that keeps intruders out of the building as well as the server room and the racks they reside on. We've touched on physical security in previous posts, but I'll refresh in saying there is plenty to be done aside from deploying armed guards outside the doors. Options for physical security range from IP surveillance systems to advanced sensors that alert the appropriate personnel when the building or server racks are entered by unauthorized parties.

Centralizing the Data Center Environment

With everything from humidity sensors to physical security controls to account for, it's fairly easy to see how overseeing the data center quickly becomes an unenviable task. Organizations that prefer a more straightforward and centralized approach can find it in an environmental monitoring system. The ideal here is to provide facility-wide visibility that makes it possible to monitor everything from a single location. The best of these systems integrate with server management software and applications for a complete picture of the data center environment. Sounds like a swell investment.

Photo Credit: Laurence Simon (Crap Mariners) via Flickr

Photo Credit: Eric Skiff via Flickr

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