Mechanical Insights

Winter Data Center Issues

Oct 26, 2021 8:30:00 AM / by Tate Engineering

tate winter data center issues

When people think of issues with data centers, cooling is probably the most common one that comes to mind. While data center cooling is critical, especially in the summer, data centers have challenges during winter weather as well. The major winter risks for data centers can be broken into two main categories: personnel issues and equipment/facility issues. Having contingency plans in place for severe winter weather is key to keeping your data center operational and keeping your people safe.

Facility Issues

Cold weather can make many different systems act up. Being prepared will keep you from scrambling to address issues when the weather is unforgiving. Some systems or equipment that need special attention are:

  • HVAC cooling coils
  • Cooling towers
  • Humidification units
  • Drain lines
  • Fuel lines
  • Engine oil/battery warmer heaters

Anything using water, like HVAC cooling coils or humidification units, should be prepared for winter operation. If glycol is mixed into the HVAC cooling circuit, make sure that it is at the correct concentration. Drain these coils and circuits when possible to avoid a burst coil and a costly repair. Drain lines need to be insulated and heat traced if water will be moving through them at critically low temperatures.

Maintaining continuous operations is typically one of the top priorities for data centers. Having an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) helps prevent loss of power from crippling your facility. However, please note that these systems only work if they are properly maintained and tested regularly. Fuel lines can become a problem during extremely cold temperatures. Without the proper fuel additives, the fuel will gum up in the lines and not pump properly. Ensure that your facility has appropriate backup fuel sources on-site to maintain operations.

When designing a data center, ensure that enough space is built into the data center to store extra things as needed. Being able to keep sufficient salt on hand greatly reduces liability and helps to keep roads and walkways open at the facility during extreme winter weather. Having sufficient fuel on-site is also extremely important. Without storing the fuel at the data center, you cannot be sure that you will be able to keep the generators running.

Personnel Issues

Keeping your people safe is paramount during severe winter weather events. For staff at the data center during adverse winter weather, ensure that the facility has enough provisions on hand. Other workers may not be able to make it in, and they may not be able to get out if weather gets bad enough. Having adequate amounts of food, water, and fuel available is of critical importance.

Considerations need to be made for how difficult the routine work can become during a winter storm. Staff will require more breaks to come in and warm back up. Equipment is slippery and can be difficult to work on. Everything takes longer when it is bitterly cold outside. Ladders can ice over and become dangerous during winter weather. When possible, ensure that stairs are accessible instead of ladders. Cold weather also causes a loss of dexterity that makes it really difficult to do easy tasks like tightening a bolt.

Related: Winter Dangers in Facility Maintenance 

During winter weather events, the humidity in the data center may drop. Requiring the use of antistatic bands is a good way to protect your people and equipment. The temperature may drop in the data center as well if the heating system can not keep up. Staff need to have plenty of warm clothing and chances to warm up if they have been outside. Ensure that the intakes and exhaust for the data center’s HVAC system do not become blocked with ice or snow. Blocked vents can cause extreme issues if not addressed quickly.

Maintenance Is Key

Even the best data centers are no match for winter weather if the facilities and equipment aren’t properly maintained. Having a preventative maintenance schedule is crucial. If your data center’s winter maintenance begins when the forecast calls for bad weather, it is too late. Keeping critical components on hand is also a great idea to keep your facility operational.

Ensure that your facility stays ready to react and you will thank yourself later. For help with preparing your data center for winter weather issues, reach out to the experts at Tate today.

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Tags: Data Center

Written by Tate Engineering