Not just hot air: Some details on Dell's server thermal design

It takes a whole lot more than just a new multi-core microprocessor or even whiz-bang virtualization technology to create a greener server. A few weeks back, I wondered out loud exactly why Dell's latest PowerEdge M-Series blades were getting so much notice as a green option -- after having several interview subjects mention the company, unprompted, as an innovator in green hardware design.

It takes a whole lot more than just a new multi-core microprocessor or even whiz-bang virtualization technology to create a greener server. A few weeks back, I wondered out loud exactly why Dell's latest PowerEdge M-Series blades were getting so much notice as a green option -- after having several interview subjects mention the company, unprompted, as an innovator in green hardware design. The key, according to some of the company's brand managers, who reached out subsequently to chat, lies in how the PowerEdge servers handle power administration and management options.

One secret to better thermal design is the types of fans that Dell is using and how they're configured, according to Glenn Keels, director of global commercial product marketing for Dell.

Each PowerEdge M1000e, as an example, includes nine custom fans that are engineered to monitor the specific airflow and power efficiency requirements of the blade very closely depending on the software load, adjusting accordingly to diffuse the heat being created. The servers use a traditional front-to-back airflow design, with a twist. "We want to make sure that our fans are only blowing the minimum amount of hot air back out into the data center," Keels said. The servers also happen to use what Keels said is the first lead-free chassis in the world, one that is designed to last five years.

This white paper gets a whole lot more granular about Dell's thermal design for the M-Series blades. It's pretty interesting, even for a non-engineering type like me.

When all is said and done, Keels and Aaron Hanson, the senior manager for PowerEdge servers, have all sorts of impressive ways of describing the energy savings potentially realized by installing Dell's racks. They figure, for example, that switching out one rack of the competition's technology to Dell's could equate to an 18 ton savings in greenhouse emissions created. (That's supposedly the equivalent of planting a four-acre forest.)

You do the math.

Incidentally, Dell added to its PowerEdge line again just week, this time introducing a couple of systems aimed at small businesses. The PowerEdge R300 is a rack server that starts at $1,249; the two configuration, known as the PowerEdge T300, starts at $999. The servers use the quad-core Xeon x5460 processor. Dell touts the R300 as the industry's most energy-efficient server based on performance per watt as figured in SPECPower. Here are more details.