Cool, smart and green data centers

When you walk into the Feynman Computing Center data center, you can immediately sense the large amounts of energy running the machines. The dull roar, blinking lights and changing air temperature are physical signs of petabytes of data being processed. This mission-critical service requires a lot of energy, and our data centers account for roughly 10 percent of the lab’s overall electricity usage. In the continuous effort to be more environmentally friendly and to improve our data center operations, the Computing Facilities team took on multiple projects this year that increased the reliability, enhanced the energy efficiency and reduced the cost of running our data centers.

Keith Coiley from the Computing Facilities Department works in one of two data centers at FCC. Photo: Reidar Hahn

The first project upgraded the cold aisle containment system in our data centers. At Fermilab, the racks of machines are lined up to form aisles. Cold air is pumped through the floor into these aisles and then pushed through the machines to keep them from overheating. As the air warms up from cooling the machines, it is pushed out the back of the machines and into the room. To keep this warm air out of the cold aisles and to contain the cold air, there are doors at the end of the cold aisles. Over the last year, the Facilities team has added ceilings to these aisles to keep the cold air even better contained.

“Doing so has increased the reliability of these cold aisles,” explained Facilities Department Head Adam Walters. “The temperature inside the aisles is even and consistent, and it takes less air pressure and electricity to cool the room.”

This relatively minor upgrade makes a big impact on the resource use of the data center.

Cold air is pumped through the floor of the cold aisles and exhausted into the hot aisles of the data center. This method keeps the machines at a regulated, cool temperature. Image: FESS

Another recent improvement was the addition of the iCom cooling system on the second-floor data center in FCC.

“Think of the iCom system as giving the air conditioners a brain,” Walters said. “If one of the air conditioners develops a problem and can’t provide sufficient cooling, the iCom smart controller increases the cooling power of the other units or turns on one of the standby air conditioners.”

Having a smart system is particularly helpful after hours since it can save crucial minutes on response time.

Facilities Department Head Adam Walters stands in the cold aisle of an FCC data center. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Variable-speed drive (VSD) fans were also added to the air conditioners in FCC’s second-floor data center. The VSD fans allow the air conditioner to adjust the speed of the fans as needed based on the temperature of the room. Previously, the fans in the air conditioning units ran continuously at 100 percent. Now, most of the fans run at 80 percent, which saves a lot of energy and allows the temperature in the room to be more accurately controlled.

“We are always looking for ways to improve the reliability of our data centers,” Walters said, “and it is exciting when we can make a few changes that not only increase reliability, but also have the additional benefits of reducing costs and being more environmentally friendly.”

Keep an eye out for these and future upgrades on your next visit to the FCC data center.