Data Centers Caught in a Cool FLIRy

I was recently talking to Richard Donaldson (an adviser of ours at Panorama Capital) of United Layer about a novel approach to optimizing data center cooling – using forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras.


United Layer rents a FLIR camera, he told me, the kind typically used to help pilots see at night or in dense fog, to create an infrared thermal image of equipment racks in which inefficient configurations can be easily detected. Once they’re found, United Layer works with the customer to redesign their rack layout, improving equipment performance, lifetime and total cost of ownership. Of course, this process also makes it easier to cool the data center, which helps control United Layer’s operational costs. As Donaldson explained to me in an email:

I think what we can see is that the “densifying” of the racks can become rather problematic when not thought thru – drive arrays should have spacing and be placed at base of cabs or close to cooling. I think that as existing facilities continually try to pack more into racks they will begin to really see how grossly inefficient the old “monolithic” paradigm of trying to cool the whole data center really is. The thermal images allow us to see exactly how each rack layout is good or bad for future design recommendations – all the temperature sensors in the world don’t give this kind of granularity…We also wanted to see real time thermal shots of our cold row heat containment strategies to prove and further illustrate what we knew from limited data.

Using FLIR to examine each equipment rack in a data center appears to be a novel and unique approach to optimizing cooling. I’ve seen thermal scans used to examine entire buildings for thermal leaks and hotspots, but never the use of FLIR to examine actual rack layouts in such detail. While a good quality FLIR camera sells for upwards of $10,000, Donaldson rented one for $80/day — what he called “an entrepreneurial approach.”

There are other new and interesting approaches to measuring the physical environments of data centers, such as the wireless sensors and benchmarking capabilities from Synapsense. But for $80/day I’m tempted to get Donaldson to hook me up with his FLIR camera rental company so I can check out our equipment racks myself.

Image credit: United Layer

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