Data Centers

Data centers and data center HVAC systems are critical, energy-hungry infrastructures that operate around the clock. They provide computing functions that are vital to the daily operations of top economic, scientific, and technological organizations around the world. The amount of energy consumed by these centers is estimated at 3% of the total worldwide electricity use, with an annual growth rate of 4.4%. Naturally, this has a tremendous economic, environmental, and performance impact that makes the energy efficiency of cooling systems one of the primary concerns for data center designers, ahead of the traditional considerations of availability and security. [1] This article will discuss the ASHRAE data center standards that correlate with these concerns.

ASHRAE data center standards and accompanying studies also show that the largest energy consumer in a typical data center is the cooling infrastructure (50%), followed by servers and storage devices (26%) [2]. Thus, in order to control costs while meeting the increasing demand for data center facilities, designers must make the cooling infrastructure and its energy efficiency their primary focus; introducing ASHRAE data center standards.

Data Center HVAC: Which Standards to Follow?

Until recently, this was a challenging task due to the fact that the industry standards used to assess the energy efficiency of data centers and server facilities were inconsistent. To establish a governing rule for data center HVAC energy efficiency measurements, power usage effectiveness (PUE) was introduced in 2010. However, it served as a performance metric rather than a design standard and still failed to address relevant design components, so the problem remained.

New Energy Efficiency Standard ASHRAE 90.4

This led the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), one of the main organizations responsible for developing guidelines for various aspects of building design, to develop a new standard that would be more practical for the data center industry. the devised ASHRAE data center standards, ASHRAE 90.4, has been in development for several years and was published in September of 2016, bringing a much-needed standard to the data center community. According to ASHRAE, this new data center HVAC standard, among other things, “establishes the minimum energy efficiency requirements of data centers for design and construction, for the creation of a plan for operation and maintenance and for utilization of on-site or off-site renewable energy resources.” [3]

Overall, this new ASHRAE 90.4 standard contains recommendations for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of data centers. This ASHRAE data center standard explicitly addresses the unique energy requirements of data centers as opposed to standard buildings, thus integrating the more critical aspects and risks surrounding the operation of data centers. And unlike the PUE energy efficiency metric, the calculations in ASHRAE 90.4 are based on representative components related to design. Organizations need to calculate efficiencies and losses for different elements of the systems and combine them into a single number, which must be equal to or less than the published maximum figures for each climate zone.

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