Data center facilities, which house thousands of servers, storage devices and computing hardware, arranged in 2 meter high racks are providing many thermal challenges. Each rack can dissipate 10–15 kW, and with facilities as large as tens of thousands of square feet, the net power dissipated is typically on the order of several MW. The cost to power these facilities alone can be millions of dollars a year, with the cost to provide adequate cooling not far behind. Significant savings can be realized for the end user by improved design methodology of these high power density data centers. The fundamental need for improved characterization is motivated by inadequacies of simple energy balances to identify local ‘hot spots’ and ultimately provide a reliable modeling framework by which the data centers of the future can be designed. Recent attempts in computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling of data centers have been based around a simple rack model, either as a uniform heat generator or specified temperature rise across the rack. This desensitizes the solution to variations of heat load and corresponding flow rate needed to cool the servers throughout the rack. Heat generated at the smaller scales (the chip level) produces changes in the larger length scales of the data center. Accurate simulations of these facilities should attempt to resolve the range of length scales present. In this paper, a multi-scale model where each rack is subdivided into a series of sub-models to better mimic the behavior of individual servers inside the data center is proposed. A Reynolds-averaged Navier-Stokes CFD model of a 110 m2 (1,200 ft2) representative data center with the raised floor cooling scheme was constructed around this multi-scale rack model. Each of the 28 racks dissipated 4.23 kW, giving the data center a power density of 1076 W/m2 (100 W/ft2) based on total floor space. Parametric studies of varying heat loads within the rack and throughout the data center were performed to better characterize the interactions of the sub-rack scale heat generation and the data center. Major results include 1) the presence of a nonlinear thermal response in the upper portion of each rack due to recirculation effects and 2) significant changes in the surrounding racks (up to 10% increase in maximum temperature) observed in response to changes in rack flow rate (50% decrease).

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