Heating, cooling and energy-saving at the Grid Computing Center

Adam Walters

Adam Walters, computing data center manager, wrote this column.

Fermilab’s Grid Computing Center is dedicated to supporting experiments in their scientific endeavors. It houses thousands of computers and is the most compute- and power-intensive data center at Fermilab.

The effort to maintain Fermilab’s data centers’ reliability is a challenging one. Data centers run quietly in the background of the lab’s scientific program, and when they run well, you shouldn’t even notice. When there’s a hiccup — even a few minutes of down time in one of our data centers — it can jeopardize scientific computing operations significantly. Our goal in the Core Computing Division is to operate reliable, efficient data centers. Two recent projects have helped us achieve this.

A recent improvement project conducted in collaboration with FESS relocated cooling condensers from the ground level to the roof of the existing Grid Computing Center. It successfully addressed a complex cooling problem that limited the cooling capacity of the system. The normal operation of the data center generates a substantial amount of heat, which is removed from the space by the computer room air conditioning units located in the data center and associated exterior condensers. By relocating the condensers to the roof, the system is able to achieve the maximum cooling capacity. This effectively improves the operation and reliability of the overall cooling system and provides energy-saving benefits.

The second project, cold aisle containment, has also improved our energy efficiency, not only at GCC, but at the Feynman and Lattice computing centers as well. Reducing the potential for mixing of the cool air and warm air is the key to reducing electrical energy consumption in the data center. Over the past year, cold aisle containment systems were deployed to ensure that cold air has the most direct path to the front of the servers and that warm exhaust air has the most direct path to the return plenum of the cooling units. The return on investment for this project is huge: Energy savings for cold aisle containment at GCC will pay for the project within 18 months.

Although these are our latest projects, our efforts to provide dependable and energy-efficient data centers have been ongoing. GCC has been awarded the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR award for four consecutive years and is the first facility on site to meet ENERGY STAR’s Guiding Principles for High Performance and Sustainable Buildings.

We look forward to continuing to do our part to enable the future science program at Fermilab by providing reliable and energy-efficient data centers.