With more than 18 million servers operating globally, data centers represent 1% of the entire global demand for power. Servers require large amounts of electricity and are heavily affected by turbulent energy costs. Due to the colossal amount of energy these facilities consume, data center owners and managers — and even governments — worldwide are seeking more energy-efficient solutions. 

Recent years have seen an increase in the percentage of total data center energy use due to the growing demand for information services and computer-intensive applications, such as AI, ML, automation, self-driving vehicles, and beyond. While many older, less efficient data centers have shut down, the total energy used by data centers worldwide remains relatively high. Research predicts that global data center energy consumption will increase anywhere from three- to eightfold by 2030, but there are opportunities to improve data center energy efficiency with advanced sensor technology.

Temperature and humidity

Most data center energy is used to cool and condition the air in order to maintain IT functionality. IT infrastructure drives about 60% of a data center’s energy use, with the other 40% coming primarily from cooling and air-conditioning systems.

Maintaining IT infrastructure at optimal temperature and humidity levels is vital for ensuring high uptime. Cooling and air conditioning are necessary to remove the heat generated by IT equipment, avoid overheating, and prevent failures. As a result, monitoring temperature in the aisles and racks, ductwork, cooling system pipes, and outdoors is critical. To provide the necessary level of reliability needed to operate, the infrastructure should be designed to achieve 99.999% uptime in newer facilities. 

The optimal air temperatures are between 75.2° and 77.9°F, and it’s essential to monitor the temperature differential between the hot and cold aisles. Humidity can also adversely affect IT equipment, with low levels increasing the risk of static electricity. High humidity levels should also be avoided because they can result in condensation and the corrosion of metallic equipment.

Fortunately, there are opportunities to improve the efficiency of temperature and humidity control by leveraging advanced sensor solutions and innovative data center design to reduce skyrocketing data center energy consumption. Thanks to technological innovations, optimizing data centers with smart design and utilizing effective HVAC system operations to increase data center energy efficiency has become more accessible than ever for companies across industries. New facilities are taking advantage of these innovations and finding creative design solutions to improve airflow and energy efficiency.

Design with a purpose

Understanding how systems work empowers data center managers to develop effective mitigation and improved performance strategies for efficient business operations.

Cooling a small area to remove the heat generated by IT equipment is usually simple. Larger data halls can be more challenging to monitor, however, because they have a more significant potential for spatial temperature variability. Consequently, positioning a sufficient number of temperature sensors and optimizing the design of the data center can help reduce energy waste.

Temperature measurement errors can increase energy bills significantly, and data center temperature control strategies are only as good as the measurement equipment, which is why having reliable and stable measurement instruments is crucial. When controlling temperature, most data centers monitor delta T using these four methods.

  1. Before and after it passes the IT equipment.
  2. Before and after it passes the coolers.
  3. Between when the air leaves the coolers and enters the IT equipment.
  4. Between the air leaving the IT equipment and entering the coolers.

By accurately monitoring these four delta Ts and different types of humidity measurements (relative humidity, dew point, and enthalpy), data center managers can better understand the factors affecting energy inefficiency, and can then perform mitigation and improvement measures to fine-tune data center performance.

Another way companies are boosting data center energy efficiency is by utilizing economization. This process brings in air from outside the building or recycles air already used for cooling to facilitate data center heat rejection. Special consideration should be taken in selecting instruments that have been designed and optimized for use in measuring outdoor environments. With economization, though, the humidity level may fall below acceptable levels unless appropriate controls are in place. While economization requires careful management, it can help lower costs and improve efficiency and sustainability.

Organizations need a clear picture of their data center and HVAC system's current configuration to achieve the highest efficiency standards. They also need to fully understand how the HVAC system works — and how to optimize it. Improving data center energy efficiency can be a daunting task, but HVAC sensor solutions provide more control than ever.

Advanced HVAC sensor technology

Monitoring and measuring data center environmental conditions is vital to maintain temperature and humidity levels and energy costs. Since the data in the IT infrastructure is mission critical, data center managers need continuous accurate measurements to improve energy efficiency and avoid the potentially devastating impact of downtime. 

High-quality sensors enable efficiently controlled HVAC processes and a stable indoor environment that helps save energy by identifying falsely high or low temperature readings and whether the air is too dry or excessively humid. Advanced HVAC sensors measure temperature, humidity, dew point, other calculated humidity parameters, and much more to optimize energy efficiency and minimize operating and maintenance costs. 

The world at large is seeking ways to monitor and measure everything. While real-time data center monitoring can be daunting and expensive — if not nearly impossible — to manage, advanced HVAC sensor technology makes this process easier. Today, some devices meet every need, and the only challenge lies in finding the tool to tackle the task. Companies interested in conserving their resources should invest in higher-value and more durable technologies because risks to vital data are untenable and lifelong reliability is key to decreasing maintenance and energy costs. 

Power-intensive servers must be maintained in ideal temperature and humidity conditions to prevent downtime, underscoring the vital importance of accurate control and optimized HVAC processes. As the value of the systems and information held by data centers continues to increase, investments in accurate, stable measurement systems and sensor technologies will be negligible given the essential services data centers provide to businesses, economies, and societies worldwide.