Modern data centers run just fine at 75 degrees, but systems that do need a cooler environment can still get it through chilled rack doors without impacting adjacent units.
"What started off to be just a fun little pet project become part of our business here. It's taken on a life of its own," explained Rich Whitmore, CEO of Motivair Corp. in Amherst, NY. The company's ChilledDoor products are built-to-order with liquid cooling coils inside, using the same principles as a car radiator or a home air conditioner.
Whitmore acknowledged the high cost: ChilledDoor products start at $6,000, while a regular rack door is a $50 part. The value is that you get privately controlled cooling specifically to your rack, he asserted, rather than relying on a data center manager to adjust a room-wide cooling system in ways that balance happy hardware with appropriate budgets.
"We developed this technology because, just by nature of how it's designed, it's very closely coupled to the server rack," Whitmore added. "We are able to supply 60, 65, 70-degree water to these racks and still do very effective cooling."
The doors have programmable thermostats. Whitmore said his customers run up to 100 kilowatts of computing capacity per rack.
SEE: Special report: The cloud v. data center decision (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Direct-to-chip cooling makes such doors irrelevant. That involves traditional liquid cooling with pipes routed adjacent to motherboards, rather than only cooling outside air, which servers suck in through fans. High-end gamers use this technology, as do some supercomputing installations, but Whitmore noted that there aren't any major pushes to use this approach in enterprise equipment.
Rack doors are a surprising facet of data center innovation beyond their cooling capabilities. Security is also among customers' top concerns, said Erick Hamilton, engineering director at rack manufacturer Damac LLC.
"We're seeing an increase in requests for rack-mounted cameras, an increased request for locking rack doors, and we're even starting to see requests for locking doors in aisle containment units," he said. (Containment units are metal enclosures around groups of racks in a data center. They typically bolt straight to rack cabinets, but Damac and others are starting to build these to be modular, Hamilton explained.)
"Companies are trying to maximize the real estate of each rack," Hamilton said. He's seeing requests for taller racks that could hold 50-unit heights vs. common 40-unit heights. Some customers want all-new taller racks while others want extensions to install on top of standard racks.
Racks are inherently just pieces of steel, although there are customers requesting physically stronger racks in earthquake zones such as northern California, Hamilton added. With bigger racks comes bigger cooling requirements.
What do all those racks hold? "A lot of times, equipment-wise they don't necessarily tell us what's going in the rack," Hamilton said. "There are instances where we do look at things for the defense industry and government agencies."
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Evan became a technology reporter during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. He published a book, "Abacus to smartphone: The evolution of mobile and portable computers" in 2015 and is executive director of Vintage Computer Federation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. His vices include running and Springsteen.