What is Ambient Temperature?: Complete Explanation

Ambient temperature refers to the “temperature of surroundings.” In regard to data centers and humidity standards, ambient temperature involves controlling the specific cooling and heating that is required to keep high-performance technical equipment running and operating as effectively as possible.  

The ambient temperature in a data center is usually maintained by sophisticated cooling systems. These large-scale systems should be able to effectively cool an entire facility around the clock because servers work 24/7. Many of these computing systems provide capacity through the internet to customers on a global level.

Ambient Temperature: An Exact Definition

The most basic definition of ambient temperature is the temperature surrounding a person or place. Ambient temperature provides a parameter within which data, servers, and other vital tech equipment will be able to function with optimal efficiency. The unit of measure for the temperature may be Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin.

In the field of technology, ambient temperature involves the control systems and cooling that are required to keep data centers, servers, and other types of high-performance equipment at optimal temperature. For most technology, ambient temperature should remain between 68-75 degrees Fahrenheit. This would be 20-24 degrees Celsius.

Learning how to calculate and maintain the temperature in a room or entire facility that is neither too hot nor cold is crucial. Tech professionals must meet a variety of challenges, including knowing how to complete maintenance work when the data systems must be up and running 100 percent of the time.

If the area becomes too hot equipment can overheat and ultimately damage both servers and the data. If the correct temperature is not maintained this could result in downtime, hardware damage due to corrosion, or a buildup of moisture. It could even lead to total system failure and the loss of critical data.

It is recommended that, for most technology, ambient temperature should remain between 68-75 degrees Fahrenheit.

How does Ambient Temperature Work?

Understanding how ambient temperature works involves knowing how both the temperature of a room or facility and the humidity work together to provide the best atmosphere for technical equipment to work effectively.

Temperature

Maintaining ambient temperature starts with a combination of both cool and hot air in data centers. Server fans are blowing out the warmer air while a cooling system releases cooler air. In order for servers and computers to work efficiently, it’s necessary to know how to calculate the right balance between cool and warm air. This needs to be established and maintained to avoid downtime in the center. 

The ASHRAE temperature range recommended for maximum hardware life and uptime is stated to be between 64 degrees and 81 degrees (Fahrenheit.) In 2005, ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) recommended that temperatures in data centers remain within the 68 to 75 degree Fahrenheit range to maintain optimal uptime and hardware life. This is 20 to 24 degrees Celsius. The newer guidelines that are supported by ASHRAE set the standard at 64 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit or 18 to 27 degrees Celsius. This change occurred because newer computers have a greater tolerance for higher temperatures. As important as temperature is for optimal effectiveness, humidity is also extremely important.

Humidity

Relative humidity (RH) is how much moisture is in the air in relation to the maximum moisture amount that the air can hold at any given temperature. In a data center, humidity standards are sometimes as important as ambient temperature. Data centers normally need to have ambient relative humidity between 45 and 55 percent to maintain optimal performance.

ASHRAE’s guidelines, in 2016, recommended data center humidity standards at a level of 50 percent. Both low and high humidity can create a variety of problems. If the humidity gets too low, dry air can cause ESD, or electrostatic discharge. This can damage critical components in the server. Humidity that is too high can lead to condensation, which can cause hardware corrosion and even equipment failure.

Those managing data center temperature and humidity levels should have alerts sent if humidity is below 40 percent or above 60 percent. If humidity reaches levels of 30 percent or 70 percent critical alerts should be issued. There are digital sensors available that can monitor with great accuracy both humidity and temperature.

How do you Create Ambient Temperature?

The temperature in large data centers is usually maintained by large cooling systems. Server racks will usually work 24/7 in a data facility to provide computing capabilities to customers.

It is sometimes estimated that approximately 15 to 20 kw/h for each cabinet is needed to maintain large power requirements to keep the facility within the proper ambient temperature and humidity range. Besides maintaining ambient temperature and humidity at all times, another challenge includes doing maintenance since the system must be up and running 100 percent of the time.

Figuring out how to maintain massive power requirements when setting up these large data systems can be challenging. Systems that provide ambient temperature work through forced air. There are, however, stringent regulations and best practice standards to follow when setting up data centers and server rooms to maintain ambient temperature. Administrators in data centers often are required to do one or more of the following:

  • Set up in-rack cooling as well as radiant cooling (laptop cooling pad/fans) to support devices.
  • Systems must be set in place to quickly recognize any air leaks. 
  • Even floor tiles must be correctly installed in order to maintain ambient temperature.

There are several basic factors that need tracking when creating and maintaining ambient temperature. They are the following:

  • Temperature: Technology equipment, and in particular servers, are sensitive to even minor temperature changes. The necessary temperature range needed will depend on the age of the equipment, the geographic location of the facility, and the size of the data facility.
  • Humidity: Technicians will need to monitor humidity as closely as temperature. Low or high humidity can cause either electrostatic discharge or moisture buildup. Ambient sensors will provide timely alerts for both humidity and temperature.
  • Airflow: Air circulation is also critical for properly maintaining equipment. Circulation throughout a facility is one of the most crucial aspects of controlling ambient temperature. It’s important to have the right type of tracking equipment to be able to detect and then correct any problems with temperature quickly.
  • Sensor Placement: Hot zones should be targeted with rack-level sensors. These should normally be placed near the top of racks since heat rises. To receive a complete picture of air circulation and heating conditions in a data center, sensors should be at all levels of a server rack. The one area to keep sensors away from is where air exits a server since this can cause inaccurate readings. Also place sensors near cooling units and air conditioners.

Cooling Methods

There are several methods and cooling systems available to keep data centers at ambient temperature.

  • Calibrated Vectored Cooling (CVC): This is made particularly for high-density servers. The system can handle heat effectively by optimizing the path for airflow. This system was developed by IBM for the blade server series. 
  • Cold/Hot Aisle Containment: This is a method that uses rows of hot and cold aisles. The hot aisles move the hot air into the air conditioning system so it can be chilled and then moved into the cold aisles
  • Water Chill System: This is sometimes used in larger data centers. Water is provided by a chiller plant that is somewhere on the premises. Chilled water systems are used in a variety of different organizations including factories, hotels, and shopping malls.
  • Computer Room Air Conditioner: These are sometimes referred to by the acronym CRAC. CRAC units are similar to basic air conditioning systems that receive power through a compressor drawing air through a refrigerant cooling unit. This type of equipment is relatively inexpensive compared to other cooling methods but is inefficient in regard to energy usage.
  • Computer Room Air Handler (CRAH): A CRAH includes a chilled water plant within the data center. Coldwater runs through cooling coils. Modulating fans take the air from outside the plant. This method is especially efficient if used in a location with year-round colder temperatures.
  • Evaporative Cooling: This method exposes warmer air to water, causing evaporation. This takes heat out of the air. This method uses a lot of water but is very energy efficient. Evaporative cooling systems normally don’t recirculate the same air but provide a stream of fresh air. This will likely improve circulation in a facility.
  • Raised Floor System: When the data facility’s floor is lifted above the concrete slab floor the space between is used for either improved airflow or pipes for water cooling.

Where did Ambient Temperature Originate From? 

Since the definition of ambient temperature is the actual temperature of the surroundings of any particular room, facility, etc., it likely originated from the understanding of temperature itself.

During the scientific revolution at the beginning of the 17th century, Galileo made advancements in the measurement of heat. Later, in 1878, Samuel Langley invented a thermal sensor. 

Different industries propose different temperatures as ideal, depending on the types of products they’re producing or storing. Research Gate lists the different temperatures necessary for a variety of industries.

data center
Modern-day technology enables data centers to not be as cold as they once were.

Examples of Ambient Temperature In the Real World

Since ambient temperature is generally defined as the temperature of surroundings, every area, whether it’s a data center, another type of commercial industry, or a home, has ambient temperature.

The ambient temperature inside a house is normally considered 72 degrees Fahrenheit.  The ambient temperature in a greenhouse should be approximately 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit during daylight and about 60 to 75 degrees at night. During the winter months this changes to approximately 65 degrees during the day and 45 to 50 degrees at night. Ambient temperature is controlled and maintained in a greenhouse through shade cloth, ventilation, and general heating.

When it comes to what is considered ambient temperature in a data center there are general temperatures and guidelines to follow. However, there are specific types of hardware and services that have different temperature and humidity needs. Generally, older hardware has higher temperatures while newer hardware will maintain internal temps of approximately 50 to 60 degrees. What type of hardware a facility has will determine what ambient temperature should be.

The types and brands of computer equipment a facility is housing should also be taken into consideration when determining how to calculate air temperature and humidity standards. For example, Dell has stated that a temperature as warm as 80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for their computers. Many older computers, however, would possibly overheat at that temperature so it’s necessary to take the brand and age of the equipment into consideration.

Ambient Temperature and Why it Matters for Data Centers FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What temperature should a data center be?

The ideal temperature recommended by most industry experts is 68 to 71 degrees Fahrenheit. However, some organizations keep their data facilities as high as 80 degrees in order to reduce energy consumption and lower costs. The temperature should not go above 81 degrees so equipment won’t overheat.

Why is it important to maintain the right temperature and humidity in the data center?

If either temperature or humidity goes above or below certain levels this can damage computers and servers, creating extensive downtime, damaged equipment, and potentially lost data.

Do data centers need to be cold?

Data centers don’t necessarily need to be cold. The temperature, in general, should not dip below 68 degrees Fahrenheit or go above 80 degrees.

How are data centers cooled?

Data centers are kept cool using a variety of methods. A few methods include Calibrated Vectored Cooling (CVC), Computer Room Air Conditioning (CRAC), Cold and Hot Aisle Containment, Water Chill systems, and Computer Room Air Handler (CRAH), Evaporative Cooling, and a Raised Floor System.

Why are servers located in cold countries?

Data centers located in colder climates are able to use the outside air for cooling. Besides colder countries, data facilities are sometimes located near ocean or lake water since this can also be used for cooling servers and other equipment. An example of this is Facebook. The company has data centers in Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

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