Does Heat Damage Modern Servers?

July 15th, 2012

computer parts CPU and wires

Electronic equipment such as computers are complex appliances that are quite sensitive to the ambient conditions around them — especially heat and humidity. Heat can melt delicate circuits and the solder that holds them together, as well as warp them, potentially loosening the connections between the circuits. Humidity can cause rust in the electronics, resulting in poor connections and performance failures. Even with all the advances in electronics over the past decade, heat and humidity still present big problems for IT professionals.

Problems of scale in server systems

Many electronic appliances contain cooling fans that, for the most part, do a good job of drawing away the heat generated by the electronic components. However, if yours is a business that relies on the efficient functioning of a server system that runs day in and day out, you don’t want to be solely dependent on the small fans that are typically included in a server.

These fans are adequate on a small scale, but do not do the job when you scale up to larger server systems, as they cannot keep up with the heat generated. This is because as you move up the scale of server systems, the heat is magnified considerably, but the cooling capacity is not. In addition, “hot spots” can appear in areas where airflow is blocked, as well as in areas where server components are placed too close to each other.

Problems with central air-conditioning systems

Many people assume their central air conditioning will be sufficient to keep their server system cool along with the rest of the building, but there are a few problems with this line of thinking, including the following:

  • Timed operation

Central air conditioning units do not generally run 24/7. Instead, they are programmed on a timer that shuts them off during the night and, often, over the weekend, which will almost certainly be the case if your business is located in a commercial building. Commercial landlords want to minimise their utility bills and will seek ways to reduce the operational time of high input units like air conditioners. While this makes good business sense for your landlord, it can be disastrous for your IT services if it is a warm weekend.

  • Outside temperature settings

Most central air-conditioning systems shut off when the outside temperature drops below a certain set benchmark. For the purposes of the general building, this is fine, but your server room will be hotter than the rest of building regardless of the outside temperature, so you want your air conditioner to be functioning regardless of how cool it is outside.

  • Solutions

Air conditioners provide a good solution to the problems of heat and humidity. An excellent alternative to central air conditioning systems for your server set-up is to install either a portable air conditioner in your server room or have a dedicated air conditioner unit that services just your server room with settings that are sensitive to conditions in there. If you have business IT support, have them work with a professional air conditioner service to design the right cooling system for your IT needs.

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