Always Awake, Cool and Dry

July 22, 2008

As I turn on to the main road after leaving my Kumdo dojang (Korean fencing school), I glance at the rear view mirror down the street, in the direction of SoftLayer's new east coast datacenter. The strangely cool, red light from the setting sun fills the mirror and signals the end of this long, hot day. My mind briefly escapes the fading heat by recalling the cool temperature and humidity regulated environs within the datacenter.

Ever wonder how to keep thousands of servers cool? In a word: CRAC - Computer Room Air Conditioning. These giants sit throughout the datacenter pumping cool air up through ventilated floors. The cool air blows up in front of the server racks, gets sucked in through the front of the servers, over the drives, past the CPU heat sinks and RAM, then out the back of the server. The warm air exits, rises, and returns to the CRACs where the humidity and temperature are adjusted, and the cycle continues. Just like you learned in science class.

So it must be a serene, sterile environment - like those IBM commercials? That would be nice, but the reality is : computers need fans. One or two fans wouldn't bother anyone when they kick in on your gaming pc, but multiply 4 or 5 fans (do you like RAID arrays? You get extra fans!) by one thousand, or more and the decibels add up. Solid state hard drives - when they become available - might help with the noise (and also with power consumption), but it is mostly from the server fans. Liquid cooling works, but I think most people would prefer not to have fluid of any sort circulating over their motherboard. Zane (resident Linux guru) extols the benefits of passive cooling. Whatever cooling solutions arise in the future, you can be sure SoftLayer will be leading in technology implementation.

My attention returns to the road ahead and the pale blue of the evening sky. I hope to get a few hours of shut-eye before returning for my shift. Because SoftLayer doesn't sleep. Always awake, cool and dry.

-Philip