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Microsoft Uses Wireless Sensors to Track Data Center Temperatures

The system, designed by Microsoft researchers, helps the company reduce the cost of cooling the dozens of data centers it operates.
By Claire Swedberg
The software system, developed by Microsoft Research, allows that data to be visualized on a map, on what the company calls the Web-based DC Genome Explorer system. The map displays the data center's layout and highlights any hot zones in real time. It also stores information that can be later used for business analytics in the event that Microsoft chooses to evaluate the data center's condition at a particular time in the past.

In that way, Microsoft is alerted if the temperature threshold is exceeded in any specific location. The company uses the data to evaluate the conditions throughout the center, and to adjust the temperature or fan speed. What's more, a server that gets too hot can be powered down, or data can be redirected to a different server.

"Once we had installed the system in a data center," Manos says, "it was allowing us to capture some interesting things." For instance, he says, a room in a data center typically includes cold and hot aisles. In a cold aisle, cool air from the air-conditioning system passes in front of the servers. The hot aisle is where heated exhaust air from the servers gets routed back into the AC system to be chilled. With the sensors, Microsoft could see that in one case, hot server exhaust air was leaking under a rack into the cold aisle, thus compromising its ability to cool the servers. Manos says he simply installed a metal plate to stop the leakage.

Now that the system is installed in dozens of data centers, Manos says, he can access information regarding the conditions of servers worldwide from his own office, and he can also store historical data regarding server temperatures. "When there are significant changes in heat patterns within a rack, we can now capture that," he states. For example, heavy usage of the Messenger instant-messaging application or other Microsoft services by the public at certain times of the day may cause spikes in the temperature of some servers, which Microsoft can now address by adjusting server workloads, or by activating or deactivating some servers during particular times of the day. "This gives us an understanding of the capacity and function of the servers," he says, "and it helps us optimize our data centers."

Microsoft is now piloting the integration of the sensors with the AC system, thereby enabling the company to raise or lower temperatures automatically, based on measurements from those sensors.

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