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How Banks Can Protect Their Servers From High Temperature Threats

Nov 12, 2015

Major financial institutions have deployed massive data centers in many, if not most, major cities across the world. In the United States, life is relatively easy compared to that in developing countries where electrical power instability can be a challenge when operating large data centers.

High temperatures and poor air quality present the biggest problems for financial institutions operating in developing countries. Air conditioning in regions where outdoor temperatures regularly exceed 100°F (38°C) work harder and consume more power at these high temperatures. These air conditioners are more prone to failure and require regular maintenance to maintain their efficiency. Poor air quality can also be a challenge if corrosive gaseous pollutants like sulfur dioxide, a common byproduct of coal-fired power plants, come in contact with exposed electronics. Financial institutions with data centers in such environments often protect their servers from corrosive gases and increased particulate contamination with specialty filtration at a significant cost. Experience has shown to do otherwise can result in higher server failure rates. ASHRAE recognizes the challenge of corrosive gases and provides guidelines to address these conditions.

Electrical power consumption vs. outdoor ambient temperature demonstrate increased demand on air conditioners in hot climates. This graph shows the effect of raising the thermostat setting to reduce electric power consumption.
Source: NTT Review

While datacenters in developing countries are more prone to failure due to environmental and infrastructure-related circumstances, small and mid-sized companies in the U.S. are not totally immune to power interruptions. In fact, analysis of U.S. Department of Energy data shows a more than fourfold increase in average annual electrical power outages in 2010 - 2013 (200) compared to 2000 - 2004 (44). While this is not good news, the likelihood of a local power outage to interrupt business operation is minimal. Of greater concern to small and mid-size business IT professionals is the loss of air conditioning due to AC failure, a tripped breaker, or an employee inadvertently shutting down AC power.

AC failures and tripped breakers that won’t reset are common occurrences and keep HVAC and electrical contractors busy. Couple this with the fact that small and mid-sized business server racks are often in storage rooms or closets not originally designed to handle the increased demand from the heat generated and temperatures can getting warm quickly. The fact that these problems always seem to occur after hours or on weekends keeps IT professionals on edge. Overheating servers can lead to server thermal shutdown, real or potential equipment damage, data loss, business operation interruptions, and even revenue loss.

Small and mid-sized banks and financial institutions have an increased sensitivity: they deal directly with people’s money. Think of the last time you went to an ATM and found it was offline. Were you happy? When customers can’t access their banks due to IT problems, it can lead customers to question whether or not their money is safe. Even more disconcerting, banks that have IT problems can lead to questions about the accuracy of the customer’s account information. For this reason, several small and mid-sized banks have taken the position that when things get too hot in their data centers, IT team members are notified. Additionally, if temperatures continue to rise before action can be taken, they opt to automatically shut the servers down, preserving data and protecting hardware.

Small and mid-sized banks (Left Image) rely on small server rooms (Right Image) to run their business. Automatic temperature monitoring and server shutdown when temperatures exceed safe operating levels is possible with Temperature@lert’s USB Edition (Center Image).

Small and mid-sized banks and financial institutions employ mission critical IT infrastructures. The ability to be alerted about potential problems and to automatically shut down servers because of increased temperatures is invaluable to all types of institutions, especially banks. Temperature conditions in data centers at these institutions require special treatment to insure server operation is optimized and that when things get too hot, customer and company financial data and equipment is protected.


CIO Magazine offers these four tips for keeping your data center cool and in check:


Mind the Gaps

While it seems like an obvious fix, all too often data centers have gaps throughout that allow air to escape and penetrate the facility. In addition to leaky windows and doors, another common drain on cooling efficiency is ventilation or ceiling tiles that have been removed and not replaced. Brush strips, blanking panels and even curtains can be deployed to provide what is essentially weather-stripping. Pay particular attention to cable cutouts and the space under CRAC units. For data centers in locations where humidity is of particular concern, it's critical to ensure that the vapor barrier — the plastic or metal coating for the walls, ceiling and floors that keeps moisture at bay — remains intact. 

Monitor and Measure

It is difficult to make efficiency improvements in data center operations without knowing how equipment is performing and where heat is generated. By installing monitoring equipment on racks and PDUs to measure the load and power consumption, a data center can then identify any equipment that is running inefficiently in terms of capacity or even unnecessarily in terms of the applications that are on it.

Optimize the Supply Air Temperature

For years, data centers have operated under the premise that the cooler, the better. Today that's not always the case. In addition to raising the temperature on your CRAC units, it may be possible – and certainly is simpler – to turn some of them off altogether. A data center that has 300 kW of cooling installed with a 400 kW UPS system running at 25% of capacity has three times the amount of cooling that is needed. Leveraging a temperature monitoring system, like the Temperature@lert USB Edition, is an easy and cost-effective way to ensure the data center is staying within a comfortable temperature range at all times. If there are variations that could compromise the equipment and data, an alert is sent immediately so quick action can be taken.

General Housekeeping

Maximizing cooling efficiency also requires regular maintenance and perhaps a few interior changes. If a data center has a raised floor, make sure the space under the floor is as clear as possible. To reduce the overall work an AC has to do, it makes sense to locate cooling as close to the workloads as possible. Air conditioning units themselves also won't function efficiently when dirty, so make sure to clean the outdoor heat exchanges and the filters on indoor units. And if a data center has windows, drawing blinds or installing a room darkening film can reduce solar load.

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