NEC ‘Convection Cooled’ Data Centers Slash Energy Use By 30%


Japanese electronics firm NEC has revealed its working on a new kind of data center – one that’s smaller, and relies on convection to slash power consumption by as much as one third over traditional data centers, even in warm climates.

NEC said that its new prototype data centers can achieve this dramatic reduction in power by the simple means of convection – essentially, it uses the difference in temperature between the outside air and the hot air exhaled from its servers to create an air flow, which can then be recycled to cool the servers down, reducing the need for dedicated cooling units.

In its press release, the firm adds that while using convection is not a new idea in itself, it has the potential to be a game changer in Japan, where most data center facilities continue to operate under old American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning (ASHRAE) guidelines published in 2004. These recommendations stipulate an optimal temperature of 20° C to 25°C for enterprise servers, and between 40% and 50% humidity. Since then however, updated guidelines have expanded that range to 15°C and 32°C, and 20% to 80% humidity.

Given the Japanese climate, which ranges from sweltering, humid summers to bitterly cold winters, the old standards meant that suitable data center environments were extremely scarce in the country, and as a result most data centers were built completely enclosed.

Now however, with the updated ASHRAE guidelines, NEC estimates that it will be able to apply its convection technology in dozens of locations across the country, for around 60% of the year.

To use the convection method, NEC says that it’s necessary to make its data center modules smaller; hence, it had developed a new, portable variant measuring six meters in length, capable of holding up to six racks of 8kW servers. Downsizing the servers won’t be a problem in Japan anyway, where portable data centers are far more popular than they are in the US, due to Japanese cities’ narrow streets and the high cost of land.

NEC said that its portable, convection-cooled data centers should be ready sometime next year, with larger modules to come at some point in the future.