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Data Centers: Tech Giants Turn to Fluid Dynamics to Achieve Greater Energy Efficiency

By Dick Weisinger

Both Facebook and eBay are reporting that they’ve been able to save money and become more energy efficient by making changes to the way that their data centers are cooled.  Facebook and eBay both were represented by panelists at a discussion at the recent Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s Data Center Efficiency Summit.

Facebook looked at the problem of energy efficiency and the cooling systems in their data centers.  To help analyze the problem, they called in experts to run a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) report of their data center in Santa Clara.  The findings were that warm and cool air were mixing above and around server aisles.  To counter the loss of cold air from around the servers, they built a containment system using fire retardant plastic that enclosed the tops and ends of the server aisles.  That allowed them to be able to shut down 15 of their computer room air handlers, saving Facebook considerable energy costs at that facility.  They also tuned the speed of the coolant fans to be more efficient.

Similarly, eBay ran a CFD analysis of their data center in Arizona.   They installed panels around their server racks to entrap the cool air being piped in.  eBay also adopted variable-speed fans in their cooling system.  As a result of their efforts, they were able to achieve a 16 percent energy consumption savings.  Interestingly, during the last 18 months eBay reports having had to increase the number of servers they employed by 50 percent, but during that time, because of more efficient cooling, they needed to increase their power consumption by only 25 percent.

These examples both show how the use of CFD to model data centers for achieving greater energy efficiencies is becoming more popular, although the costs of running a CFD report at smaller data centers still remains as too expensive.

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