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Google cranks the thermostat

In a story published today at Data Center Knowledge, Google recommends operating data centers at higher temperatures than the norm. "The guidance we give to data center operators is to raise the thermostat," Google energy program manager Erik Teetzel told Data Center Knowledge. "Many data centers operate at 70 [Fahrenheit] degrees or below. We’d recommend looking at going to 80 [Fahrenheit] degrees."

On August 1, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) raised its recommended data center temperature range to between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 25 degrees Celsius). This recommendation is backed by 17 industry players, including IBM, Cisco, and Intel. "Most data centers tend to operate between 68 and 70 degrees [Fahrenheit]," says Fred Stack, an Emerson Network Power who heads ASRAE's data center committee. "But ASHRAE is actively promoting the increase of that number, along with server OEMs."

According to Stack, it's well known that Google operates its data centers at high temperatures. "Google has gone beyond the 77 degree point where most data centers start speeding up their server fans," he says. "There's no question Google operates its servers in warmer environments than the general [data center] population. Google doesn't talk about this but there are enough rumors in the world that I'm quite sure of this..."

"You can get computers to operate in environments that are well above 77 degrees. The military does it all the time."

Sorting It Out

Stack would not be surprised if Google also had a pact with Intel that upped the temperature qualifications of its processors. Processor temperature qualifications deal with the temperature of the chip itself, as opposed to the ambient temperature of the data center. So, whereas the data center might be cooled to 25 degrees Celsius, the chip itself might run 55 degrees.

"[Google uses] so many servers, they can command something special for their specific application," Stack says. "I would see no reason that Google couldn't get an Intel or AMD to commit to a special selection of components to meet a higher requirement. The military does it all the time."

In other words, he's speculating that Intel would use a special sort routine that would select chips more qualified than others to deal with high temperatures. "You could come up with a test routine that would test the ability of processors to withstand heat," he says.

AMD tells us that currently, it does not provide such a service to any of its customers. "Right now, our business just isn't set up to do that sort of thing," says Brent Kerby, product marketing manager for AMD's Opteron chips. But the company says that it would be able to do special sorting if a particular "business case" warranted it.

In selling chips to Google, Intel is fending off competition not just from AMD, but also the big-name server manufacturers. As recently as this week, Dell lamented its inability to land Google as a server customer. And privately, the big server OEMs have complained that Intel distributes chips directly to Mountain View. If Intel is providing Google with specialized chip qualifications, the server brigade must wonder why Mountain View gets perks they don't. ®

Update: This story has been updated to amend AMD statements on special processor sorts.

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