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Data center infrastructure: Too soon for liquid cooling

Less than half of data center survey respondents pay the power bill directly out of an IT budget, but 75% are trying to cut back on energy usage. A surprising number said liquid cooling isn't an option.

  Survey results table of contents  
Part 1--Platform choices: Is Unix a legacy platform?
Part 2--Server virtualization: Virtual disaster recovery takes hold
Part 3--Server hardware: HP scrapping for scale-out dominance
Part 4--Systems management: Spending tepid, ITIL and CMDB gain credence
Part 5--Data center infrastructure: Too soon for liquid cooling's recent purchasing survey asked respondents to list the most significant limiting factor for their company's data center growth. A lack of space was the No. 1 culprit. Power capacity, network bandwidth and cooling capacity were three additional limiting factors. The last three factors were cited as roughly the same in importance.

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More than half of respondents said that their business unit does not pay the power bill. Of those whose IT department pays for power, 31% of respondents faced an increase in electricity rates greater than 10%. And despite server virtualization and server hardware improvements throughout the industry, nearly 80% of respondents whose department pays for power experienced a price increase since 2006.

The survey asked data center pros whether they had implemented various strategies to save energy in the data center, and the results were as follows:

  • More than 50% said they have saved energy through server virtualization.
  • 32% had made efforts to improve under-floor air-conditioning efficiency.
  • 27% hadn't taken any measures to minimize their data center power usage.
  • 17.5% had implemented power-down features on servers not in use.
  • 11% had tried direct current power in the data center.
  • Finally, a meager 7.7% had tried liquid cooling for increased data center cooling efficiency.
In fact, 65% of respondents said they would never use liquid cooling in their data centers, a finding experts say is unsurprising. William DiBella, president of the data center user group AFCOM in Orange, Calif., said that most data center managers aren't enthusiastic about liquid cooling, but he doesn't think they will have a choice if the high-density computing trend continues.

Gordon Haff, a senior analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc., said that liquid cooling probably scares mainstream customers. He also suggested that if operating physical computing infrastructure ultimately requires liquid cooling, companies may be more likely to outsource the task than deal with the complexity.

Several vendors have made plays to include liquid cooling technologies in the data center, including major server vendors like IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems. For cooling hot servers, liquid is several hundred times more efficient than air is, but customers are nonetheless unwilling to make the leap.

"Water is such a better medium for removing heat than air is, especially with processor heat becoming such a big factor," said Charles King of Hayward, Calif.-based research firm Pund-IT Inc. "You can be completely correct from an engineering perspective; but if you're doing something that contradicts the behavior of your potential customers, you'll end up losing."

ABOUT THIS SURVEY: In the spring of 2007, conducted its first annual data center purchasing survey. Subscribers were contacted by email and invited to participate. For this survey, we had a total of 374 respondents in North America. Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey.

Let us know what you think about the data center purchasing survey; e-mail Matt Stansberry, Site Editor.

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