CFD helps guide energy-use choices

Data center administrators facing the complicated task of laying out equipment to optimize airflow can find assistance in the form of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software technology.

From the January, 2014 Issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance Magazine

Computational fluid dynamics modeling capabilities enable data center administrators to optimize air flow and related facility designs.

By Patrick McLaughlin

Data center administrators facing the complicated task of laying out equipment to optimize airflow can find assistance in the form of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software technology. CFD "uses computer-based engineering software to model and simulate the behavior of a liquid or gas within mechanical, electronic or electrical systems," explained Mentor Graphics' (www.mentor.com) Paul Rose and Andy Manning in an article we previously published ("CFD thermal and airflow simulation improves data center design," August 2012). "CFD is particularly useful for simulating data centers because they require operational or site testing, and scale model testing is expensive and time-consuming," the authors continued.

The use of CFD could benefit just about any data center project, whether it is greenfield or brownfield. For these facilities, access to CFD capabilities and expertise can be available through vendors. For example, Chatsworth Products Inc. (CPI; www.chatsworth.com) offers a CFD modeling program. "With CPI CFD Modeling, you'll have access to an expert panel of data center design consultants, field application engineers and technical support," the company explains, "who'll conduct a rigorous checklist of your installation's existing and planned airflow, equipment placement and more. Through this precise mathematical analysis, design and placement recommendations are enhanced by a variety of observed factors."

CPI points to a high-profile energy-efficient data center as an example of CFD services' value. The Vault is a colo data center in Oregon operated by BendBroadband. CPI produced an in-house case study on The Vault, and we published an article on the facility ("The Vault slashes energy consumption and operating costs," October 2011). Among the facility's claims to fame are its less-than-1.2 Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating, its LEED Gold Certification, Energy Star rating, KyotoCooling system and its Uptime Institute Tier III rating.

Not as highly publicized--but nonetheless critical to its energy-consumption efficiencies--was The Vault's use of CFD pre-build. As CPI explains, "Using CPI's passive cooling system within the PODs [performance optimized data centers] helped balance energy usage, eliminate hot spots and allowed companies to mix and match equipment as needed. ‘We can have a customer that has a 20-kilowatt cabinet and the next cabinet may have 2-kilowatts and it doesn't matter,' says [Bob] Mobach [practice director of data center consulting with Logicalis and lead designer for the Vault project]. ‘The air volume is large enough that we've proven in CFD modeling that it is completely flexible.'"

CPI says of The Vault's use of white cabinets: "Some testing has suggested a potential for energy savings." It then quotes Mobach: "White is a reflective material so it helps us reject the heat better. We've done a lot of CFD modeling before deployment and it definitely shows that in the higher return temperatures white was very efficient."

Data centers do not need to be as highly profiled as The Vault to benefit from CFD. Just highly motivated.

Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor.

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