Blog11 May 2013

Heat load testing of data centre server rooms mitigates potential in-use disaster

Last week began with the news that the owner of a planned $299.5 million data centre in Iowa had been confirmed as Facebook. The data centre will make use of wind-powered electricity, and begins serving users in 2014.

With over a billion active users posting, commenting, and uploading pictures and videos every day, it is no surprise that it is ‘mission critical’ that Facebook’s huge scale servers are carefully maintained and housed in proven reliable data centre environments. The Iowa centre will be the company’s fourth but undoubtedly by no means last.

With such an enormous flow of data to manage, and a huge number of people relying on the service on a daily basis, not to mention Facebook’s reputation, the $300 million centre is in no way a minor ‘support’ operation. As such it is imperative the servers are kept at the right temperature to prevent overheating.

Part of the proving and commissioning process for a major data centre is extensive ‘Heat Load’ testing, where, prior to the installation of servers, the environmental systems are subject to representative heat loads to make sure the facility is up to the job of keeping the servers operating within specification. This involves hiring and deploying temporary heaters which simulate the heat the servers will produce. From this, the actual performance of the cooling systems can be assessed compared to design expectations, and from this engineers can commission the system confident that operational performance will be absolutely robust.

Overheating in a data centre can be disastrous, damaging hardware as well as causing servers to shut down with potentially catastrophic consequences. Last month Microsoft encountered this exact problem, with a spike in temperature causing the shutdown of their Outlook and Hotmail email services. This caused massive disruption for millions of users, and a large amount of grief and embarrassment for the company. This can even reach to significant detrimental impact to the share price.

By hiring heaters as imitation servers, the data centre’s cooling systems can be rigorously stress tested before the centre goes live. This is vital in making sure the data centre is properly equipped to deal with the pressures of such big server maintenance.