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Hardware Hacking Upgrades Hardware IT

Keeping a Data Center Cool on the Cheap 319

jedimaud writes "You've heard of bubble wrap, and the boy in the bubble -- now, here's a datacenter in a bubble. I work for a government agency that, like most, is trying to cut back some costs, and one of those costs is a REAL datacenter. So, we decided to wrap the whole thing in plastic (including two 1.5 ton ACs). The room hovers about 83 degrees, however, the racks in the bubble (ok, more like a termite tent) stay about 10 degree cooler. Here's some pics to check it out."
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Keeping a Data Center Cool on the Cheap

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  • Wow... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Computer Mutt ( 847977 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:57AM (#12918065)
    Now that's cool.
  • Hmmm (Score:4, Funny)

    Well, if your site is hosted by that Data Center, it just got a lot hotter in that bubble!
  • by ericdano ( 113424 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:59AM (#12918071) Homepage
    Wonder if the bubbles are working now that it's been SLASHDOTTED!!
    • I'm guessing that the plastic is melting by now...
    • I did get a partial mirror up. I think I'm missing some pages though. []

  • by dangitman ( 862676 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:00AM (#12918075)
    Do not place datacenter over head. Keep out of reach of children.
  • by tinrobot ( 314936 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:00AM (#12918079)
    Because... stuff always needs more duct tape.
  • by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:01AM (#12918085)
    "(including two 1.5 ton ACs)"

    "Ton" here refers to a "ton of cooling," a measure of power. It was originally intended to mean "the power required to melt one ton of ice in 24 hours." Since that varies based on a bunch of conditions, it was pegged at 12,000 Btu/h.

    When they changed the definition of "calorie" to mean 4.1868 J, converting Celsius to Fahrenheit and grams to pounds gives us a conversion factor of 1 ton of cooling being exactly 3 516.852 842 066 7 W.

    In other words, each a/c unit is about 5.25 kW of cooling each, or 10.5 kW total.

    Oh, and 83 degrees Fahrenheit is about 301 kelvin and a ten-degree Fahrenheit difference is a difference of 6 kelvin.

    (According to my old HVAC prof, there's been little to no progress in "metricizing" the industry in the US. Having used both systems in his course, I'd say I prefer US units, if only because the unit descriptions on things like insulative properties make more sense when the units for thickness and area don't naturally cancel each other out.)

    (And it could be worse. Most home a/c units are labelled on the box as putting out x number of Btu, suggesting they're disposable.)

    (Well, they probably are...)
    • by Solder Fumes ( 797270 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:05AM (#12918100)
      That was entirely tangential and ultimately useless information that adds no value to this discussion. ...which means that it was perfect for Slashdot! Keep up the good work!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:31AM (#12918214)
      (including two 1.5 ton ACs)

      Hey, I may be a fat geek, but I'm not THAT fat!
    • by morcheeba ( 260908 ) * on Monday June 27, 2005 @02:39AM (#12918394) Journal
      "(more like a termite tent)"

      "Most termite species are tropical or subtropical, but a few live in temperate regions." I'd posit that even fewer live in a properly cooled data center. So, on the surface (no pun intended), this doesn't seem to be a good comparison.

      But reading further into the Wikipedia article []: "Termites have biting mouthparts and are soft-bodied, of moderate to small size. They live in dark nests and tunnels, except when the winged alates emerge to leave their parent colony." When comparing termites to geeks, they both seem to have biting mouth parts and the geeks are definitely soft-bodied. And of smaller size. And, like the termites, true geeks live in their parent's basement.

      "Termites cannot themselves digest the wood that they consume." Few geeks can live on chewed-up pencils. So again, another similarity.

      Lastly, Termites construct extremely large and elaborate mounds to house their colonies. ... The internal structure of these mounds can be quite complex, with ventilation chimneys for active temperature control" Need I say more?! []
    • converting Celsius to Fahrenheit and grams to pounds gives us

      Eek, I wouldn't do that, ever.

      I'd say I prefer US units

      Of course you prefer. Me, I would fire every engineer who would not use the metric system for calculations. If it's good or not that can be [was,is] a subject of debate, but thing is, it works, and most of the world knows it. IMO the best way is to use metric units and convert to others if and only if necessary. Very many troubles can be escaped this way.
      • "Eek, I wouldn't do that, ever."

        Then you're limiting you're usefulness in the workplace. Even if everything in the US (and exported to the US) was manufactured to SI specifications tomorrow, there's still older equipment to maintain. And if you refuse to figure out what size metric socket is needed to turn a 1/2-inch bolt because it's against your religion, that's one less application for HR to consider.

        "Me, I would fire every engineer who would not use the metric system for calculations."

        Straw man.
  • Real Data Center (Score:5, Informative)

    by aaarrrgggh ( 9205 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:03AM (#12918091)
    First off, a "real" data center needs a little more than 1.5 Tons of cooling; that will barely cool a single rack in a real data center.

    Insulation is always a nice idea, be the fact of the matter is that to reject the heat from the space you need to provide a means of heat trasnfer. Generally, that requires a temperature differential between your heat source and the outside. If it is cooler outside than in the space, not much is required. If it is warmer, you will have to take advantage of thermodynamics and use a compressorized cycle. This can be more or less efficient, depending on the difference in inside and outside temperatures.

    (A typical data center operates with a 95-110F outside design temperature, and attempts to deliver 48F chilled water to the CRAC units (Computer Room Air Conditioning). This forces about 50% of the energy consumed by the computers to be used (again) to cool the equipment.)

    Call an engineer when everything melts down...
    • Re:Real Data Center (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Craigj0 ( 10745 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:13AM (#12918127)
      First off, a "real" data center needs a little more than 1.5 Tons of cooling
      I'm pretty sure 3 (2x1.5) is considered a little more than 1.5 but perhaps I'm not using "real" math.
    • Do you mean that the energy is reused or 50% additional ?

      He he... CRAC units.
    • Yea.. two 1.5 ton units is nothing.. I have a 2.5 ton unit on my house, and it's more than enough to keep out the hot and humid we've had for the last week or so.

      the DC where I keep my colo has about 25 tons of cooling, to keep up with about 40kW of systems.

      (it's always good to have spare cooling capacity, especialy because you want to give the compressors a break so they arn't running 24/7)
  • Damn... (Score:2, Funny)

    by eldawg ( 769959 )
    I doubt anyone had a chance to cache these pics.
  • by loony ( 37622 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:04AM (#12918097)
    At least now I know where my tax money went! Termite tents! That's at least more believable than that $15,000 toilet seat and $20,000 hammer :-)

  • by novalogic ( 697144 ) <> on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:05AM (#12918101)
    If that A/C unit freezes up/dies/etc, getting wraped in that bubble will cause those machines to overheat rather quickly...

    Might be a good idea to hookup a tempature controlled moter to pull the plastic down if the A/C dies, if you know how, and have a good junk pile, you can do that cheap enough....
  • by team99parody ( 880782 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:05AM (#12918102) Homepage
    Clean dry cold air. Self sufficient oil. Great physical security
    • by Solder Fumes ( 797270 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:08AM (#12918107)
      Heck, why not? Run some massive fiber along the big pipeline. Only disadvantage is that you're out on the edge of the Internet, you're not safely embedded in the middle with nice redundant capabilities.
    • I don't know about now, but Alaska didn't used to have a very reliable power grid.

      Any benefits might be offset by having to have huge UPS and generator systems.
    • And energy efficient, because the datacenter can heat your human housing and work quarters. Maybe you made this comment as a joke, seems like it would be an ideal location for massive computing operations.
    • Build it in a basement with a good vapor barrier. To make it more efficient to cool, use a cooling system that makes use of a ground loop of coolant. They're extremely efficient and not too expensive.

      Without the a/c on, my basement hovers around 68 degrees throughout the year. It's much easier to control the temperature than elsewhere in the house. With a way to actively dissipate heat (the ground loop), it'd be the ideal datacenter location without having to man a post in Alaska. :)
    • "Hey, how come we're down?"

      "Don't know. Must be a caribou in the works."

      (And when they track it down I want to see them tape that to an index card)

    • by atarione ( 601740 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @02:25AM (#12918372)
      the real problem with a data center in alaska is that the fucking polar bears will keep drinking all the cherry coke.
    • That depends on where in Alaska.

      Right now, in south central Alaska, it is 50 degrees outside. It was in the 80's earlier. I have worked on projects all over Alaska, and it gets hot and humid in the Brooks Range and Fairbanks areas, then drops to -40 for weeks at a time in the winter. Other areas are milder, but humid. I read that Anchorage is one of the sweatiest areas of the U.S., and I'm glad I don't live there. But it is Bikini season here, a ways north.

      As for the 'self-sufficient oil', most of our o

  • If someone has a cache, I'll host.

    email me the goods.

    thumper **AT**
  • I'll tell you Jeb, if that's how the Nebraska State Patrol runs a datacenter, makes me wonder about their crime lab...
    • I think that it is great that they are looking to lower costs. It strikes me as they are trying to be inovative. Considering the outlandous federal defict and even my state's defict (colorado), I think they could use more like them.
      • I think that it is great that they are looking to lower costs.

        Yes, but plastic tarp and duct tape ain't the way. In fact it's probably against OSHA rules, for good reasons.

        • by wik ( 10258 )
          Didn't they suggest this combination when the "terrorists" were going to send chemical and bio WMD to our houses? Maybe they're just re-using useless surplus anti-terror materials.
  • Mirror (Score:5, Informative)

    by ProtoStar ( 575347 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:10AM (#12918116)
  • Ouch. (Score:2, Funny)

    by d474 ( 695126 )
    I hate to burst your bubble, but you just got slashdotted.
  • Did anyone else just hear a popping sound?
  • It's misleading (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SamMichaels ( 213605 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:15AM (#12918136)
    1.5 ton sounds expensive, big and awe-inspiring. It's not. Most people have cheap 1 ton a/c units in their living room walls (12,000 btu). My 12,000 (1 ton) unit is barely able to cool 3 computers. Good luck with a datacenter.
    • Re:It's misleading (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TheFlyingGoat ( 161967 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:28AM (#12918197) Homepage Journal
      Your 3 computers must be built with awful components. At my former employer we were keeping the entire server room cool with a $200 window air conditioner. The server room had 2 HP servers, a handful of 1U IBM x336 servers, 3 workstations, 2 racks of networking equipment, and a variety of other smaller devices. The window unit ran about once an hour for 5 minutes in 85 degree weather and kept the room sufficiently cool.

      The key is to move your UPS out of the temperature controlled area, since that's the biggest source of heat in most server rooms. Then we were gradually replacing the multitude of old HP servers with the IBM servers. Each IBM could to the work of 4 HP's easily, and ran much cooler than a single HP.

      Your 3 computers must be running 1000+ watt power supplies, multiple 6800 vid cards, and a ton of hard drives if your home a/c is having trouble cooling that room.
    • Re:It's misleading (Score:5, Informative)

      by drmerope ( 771119 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:49AM (#12918272)
      No offense, but maybe you missed the point?

      The article was entitled "Keeping a Data Center Cool _on the Cheap_" (emphasis added)

      The suggestion being that they were able to significantly cut back on the size and power consumption of the cooling plant by using plastic wrap.
    • One and a half tons of cooling capacity is rather paltry. You need around 3 tons to cool a typical house. One ton will cool a 600 square-foot room, maybe a little more if well insulated.
    • Indeed. When I lived in Texas, in a 3200 square foot house, I had two zones of A/C totalling 7 ton: 5 ton for the bottom floor, and 2 ton for the smaller top floor.

      My electricity bill in July was around $350 extra just for the A/C to keep the house at a cool 80 degrees Farenheit (daytime outside temperature easily reached 100F and sometimes 110F).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:16AM (#12918140)
    keeping a datacenter cool? Thats nothing..

    try moving to india to try and get your job back from dell only to get dysintry and heat stroke, lose your wallet and end up working in low grade indian miget porno to get enough money to buy a can of coke, only to get typhode.


    Ps. I'm writing this from Iran, send help.
  • I'm wondering if the poster's gonna be in boiling oil Monday morning because:
    1. it's probably against some security policy to publicize pictures of the data centre, and/or
    2. (s)He's managed to slashdot their server(s).
  • Better yet (Score:4, Funny)

    by Mr_Icon ( 124425 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:31AM (#12918211) Homepage
    You want cool and cheap? Move your datacenter to the North of Siberia.
  • yes. (Score:2, Informative)

    its been said before, but for the sake of trying.


    partial thumbnail pics only mirror here: 7bbfed3ed64/index.html []
  • we do.

    25 watts per CPU, 50 watts per system.
  • hey have you guys seen our ductape and plastic sheets?
  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @02:07AM (#12918335) Journal
    Having recently faced a similar problem (though on a much smaller scale), we came up with almost the same solution.

    As one suggestion, though, cardboard (in 4x8ft sheets) proved a lot easier to work with than plastic sheets. For starters, the plastic requires attachment at the ceiling, and will eventually come loose under its own weight; cardboard, with a single fold in the sheet, will stand upright and support its own weight for years, assuming not too high of a humidity level. For another, cardboard won't flap around and potentially block air intakes nearly so easily as plastic will.

    Believe it or not, though, what we found the most effective way to make use of barely adequate AC - Don't treat the room as a closed system. You've basically used the plastic sheets to build giant chimneys - Now take advantage of that fact, and along with a high volume fan above each rack, just exhaust the air at the top outside rather than recycle it back into the room... Think of it this way... You spec your cooling to work to perhaps 110F ambient, right? At the top of a full rack, with 50-60F going in the bottom, you probably have 120-130F going out the top. Does it take more work to cool 130F, or 110F, back to 50F? Not to mention, your normal ambient shouldn't come anywhere near 110F...
  • I'll add more pics, if I get them. []

  • If you can fit your computers into plastic bubble made of cheap sheeting and duct tape, that is NOT a data center. It would have been easier to do what most small IT shops do - stick the servers in a small office with one of those cheesy little 1.5 ton units and shut the door.

    Post again to /. when you're working in a real datacenter.
  • Move it away from india , back home.
  • This is an outrightly dangerous fire hazard. I would strongly advise against it.
    It also traps moisture which probably will condense along the plastic and end up where you don't want it.
  • I don't get all of the attacks about this not being a "real datacenter." Sure, I wouldn't want any of my things run from his DC, but he did say that it was a government datacenter on a budget... Surely all of us have dealt with cheap government / school people at some time who refuse to put money where its needed.
  • Big bubbles no troubles.
  • by KlaymenDK ( 713149 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @03:43AM (#12918531) Journal's about load testing his data center!

    "Here's some pics to check it out." ?? Dead giveaway!
  • what about ducts? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by adrianmonk ( 890071 )

    I've thought about alternate methods for keeping computers cool, and I started to wonder about just feeding cold air directly into the intake of the computer itself, rather than trying to surround the whole computer with cold air. Then the computer's hot air output is not polluting your cold air with hot.

    What I had in mind is a sort of a system that would supply cold air through ducts (similar to the tubes that are used for hot air exhaust on a clothes dryer) at positive pressure. It'd then be a matte

    • If you use a rack properly (fill it and seal it), then the fronts (or bottoms) can be fed with cool air and the back (or top) exhausted. I have some customers that specially modified their racks to achieve this.
  • What you effectively did is made a mini-greenhouse.
  • So, we decided to wrap the whole thing in plastic (including two 1.5 ton ACs )

    Those admins look big, but nowhere near 3000 pounds each. Besides, if they would just log in they wouldn't have to post as AC any more.

  • by allanj ( 151784 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @05:36AM (#12918797)
    "two 1.5 ton AC"

    I know that lots of geeks tend to gain weight, but those are big Anonymous Cowards!
  • looks like two of them were not enough to keep thier servers going up in flame... "Pics to check out..."
    They either wanted to load test their systems or they forgot to read the warning on the bubble wrap that said don't inhale the air from inside the bubbles... My I suggest ten times as much cooling piped directly around your CPS's if your are going to even think about positng "Pics to check out" on /.
  • Assuming you live in an area with outside temperatures below 40 C (104 F), is it not a lot more energy efficient to build strong ventilation with outside air rather then an AC?
  • by deacon ( 40533 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @09:40AM (#12919759) Journal
    Hey Kids!

    Ever wonder why computers are made of metal? Why the plastic pieces are made of plastics that meet flammability performance standards?

    Tiny Tim raises his hand

    Yes, Tiny Tim?

    Please, Mr Deacon Sir, so that if some source of ignition is present, the computer does not turn into a fireball spewing deadly poisionous smoke, Sir!

    Very Good, Tiny Tim. And what happens if someone hangs up huge sheets of generic, flammable plastic in an area with lots of potential ignition sources?

    Please, Mr Deacon Sir, sooner or later it catches fire, and people die. If these boneheads are lucky, Sir, someone from the Building Facilities or the Building Inspector will see this website and make them take it down, Sir.

    Very good, Tiny Tim. The rest of the class is to read up on Flammability [].

The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you've got it made. -- Jean Giraudoux