Monday, April 13, 2009

NEBS vs. the Hottest Place on Earth

As mentioned in Higher Temperatures for Data Center and Processors for Higher Temps, various groups are pushing for higher and higher ambient temperatures in data centers. At Google's Efficient Data Center Summit last week, Amazon's James Hamilton brought up an interesting point in his slides and blog about ambient temperatures:
the hottest place on earth over recorded history was Al Aziziyah Libya in 1922 where 136F (58C) was indicated

James went on to note during his talk that telecommunications equipment designed to the NEBS (Network Equipment Building System) standards routinely has to handle temperatures up to 40°C.

Actually, the story is better than that. NEBS-GR-63 (the key NEBS specification dealing with environmental conditions for equipment in telecommunications central offices) requires equipment to handle 40°C long-term ambient temperatures, but telecommunications equipment certified at the shelf (chassis) level needs to be able to operate at 55°C ambient for up to 96 hours at a time and up to 360 hours per year [the 360 hours is for reliability calculations]. This means that much of the NEBS-rated equipment for data centers can operate at temperatures that are only 3°C lower than the highest natural temperature ever recorded on Earth, as noted by James.

Given the common engineering penchant to provide some guardband on products vs. the official specifications, even a 58°C ambient is not out of the question. This means that NEBS-rated equipment could be good candidates for data centers operating at high temperatures.

But can you get decent performance in NEBS-rated servers? Yes! For example, vendors such as Radisys, Kontron, and Emerson have announced blade servers with Intel's new 5500 (aka "Nehalem") processors, and their bladed servers commonly are NEBS certified to operate at 55°C. This would allow the latest server technology to operate in the most demanding environments.


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