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Can Eliminating Fans Really Help You Save Energy in the Data Center?

by on January 31, 2011

Data center operators’ obsession with energy savings has induced them to reevaluate all aspects of their facilities operations. A recent target of reevaluation has been the fans inside servers to keep them cool. The cooling benefits of the fans are being weighed against their energy consumption. After performing that analysis, some operators are reaching the conclusion that they’re better off without the fans—even though the move may have a negative impact on a key metric for their centers.

Server_fans “We have fans in the servers, and we have fans in the infrastructure,” Dileep Bhandarkar, chief architect for Microsoft Global Foundation Services, which designs and builds the company’s data centers, observed in a video recently released by the software maker. “Why do we need them in both places?”

What Microsoft found, he said, is that the fans could be removed from the servers themselves and the containers could be relied on to provide the airflow to cool the servers. “When you look at it holistically, you end up looking at optimizations that you would otherwise miss,” he explained.

The problem for Microsoft with removing the fans from the servers is that the traditional measure for data center energy efficiency, PUE, took a hit in the wrong direction. Energy consumed by the servers predictably went down. Energy usage outside the servers went up, so much so that the PUE for facilities without fans was higher than it was when they had fans. However, Bhandarkar pointed out, “If I look at the overall energy efficiency—the total work I’m getting done for the total power consumed—I end up going ahead.”

“PUE, or Power Usage Effectiveness, is essentially a tool,” he said. “Like any other tool, if you use it correctly, it gives you value. If you use it blindly, and you don’t use it correctly, you can get yourself into trouble.”

What do you think? Is Microsoft ahead of the curve on this one, or are they just moving the numbers? Let us know in our comments section.

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