Keeping Data Centres Cool Becoming Big Problem

03 February 2010

An area of increasing environmental concern is the rapidly growing need to power Internet applications and ‘cloud’ computing. The technology requires enormous data centres running thousands of servers. It has grown to such an extent, it is now estimated that it consumes 1.5 to 2.0% of all electrical energy in the U.S.A.

Burning 2% of the U.S. energy (source: Federspiel Controls)
Burning 2% of the U.S. energy (source: Federspiel Controls)

California-based Dust Networks®, a supplier of standards-based wireless sensor networking products and one of the main engines behind WirelessHART®, announced that its wireless sensor networking technology is being used by Federspiel Controls to help keep the file servers cool.

“Continuous cooling is critical for data centre integrity, but the typical cooling system is highly inefficient,” said Mark Housley, CEO of Federspiel Controls. He said his company is providing enterprise energy management systems that utilise “sophisticated artificial intelligence technology combined with a wireless mesh network of temperature sensors enabled by Dust Networks’ SmartMesh system to continuously monitor and adjust temperatures.”

He did not specify what type of artificial intelligence the company was using.

“Since all of the wireless sensors can run on batteries for years at a time, the system is especially well suited for retrofitting existing data centres without interrupting day-to-day operations,” he said.

“Typical installations take hours instead of weeks, and the highly reliable, ultra-low power wireless sensor networks are virtually maintenance-free.

“Results for such installations have shown total energy usage and costs reduced by up to 25%.”

Joy Weiss, President and CEO of Dust Networks, said “Data centres currently represent 1.5% to 2% of total U.S. energy consumption, with ground being broken on new facilities every day.”

And those are 2006 figures, that she cites, when U.S. energy expenditures for data centres were estimated at $4.6 billion, and growing at a rate of 15% per year.

Working with the Department of General Services for the State of California, Federspiel Controls says it will use a federal grant to automate the cooling systems at twelve of the state’s data centres. The installation is expected to reduce energy usage in these facilities by 25% this year.


Federspiel Controls calls its product DASH, for Data centre Automation Software and Hardware. The company says its DASH software, combined with wireless mesh network sensing and control modules, reduces data centre energy consumption and improves thermal management. The company estimates the solution reduces energy costs by $43 to $97 per square metre.

The crisis in cooling is becoming such that companies are rushing to build new facilities to house more servers, since they can’t squeeze any more into the existing buildings.

“Our solution allows data centres owners to delay the construction of new data centres by 9 to 14 months, saving and annual equivalent of $160 to $342 per square metre construction cost,” says a Federspiel source.

As the company explains it, DASH wireless sensors provide direct feedback of the server inlet air temperatures. The software “learns” the effects that changes to the cooling equipment (such as setpoints or on-off operations) have on data centre temperatures and power consumption. The system uses the learned behaviour to automatically determine which servers need to run, which can be useful in a lightly loaded data centre.

DASH also uses the learned behaviour to co-ordinate the operation of the cooling units, eliminating “fighting” between units. The learned behaviour of the data centre also allows DASH to optimise the temperature of the data centre, minimising overall energy consumption.

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