While there are several different types of precision air conditioning or thermal management systems designed to meet the unique needs of a variety of applications, all systems generally work in the same manner. The equipment provides optimum air temperature to the inlet fans of the IT equipment using a unit or units installed in the IT space, either at the perimeter of the room, in the row, or in the racks or ceiling if floor space is at a premium. These interior units use refrigeration or rely on cold water or glycol-based coolant to chill the air. They use fans and airflow to guide the cool air to the right places.
In some IT spaces, such as server or technology rooms located in an administrative building, facilities managers will often rely on the building’s comfort cooling system to maintain the environment in the IT space. It is true that a commercial AC solution can play some role in controlling temperature, humidity, and air quality in these rooms. But the systems are lacking in many ways, starting with the fact that comfort cooling for people spaces and precision cooling for IT spaces are specifically engineered for very different purposes.
Think of it like this: cars and trucks share all the same basic components (engines, steering wheels, brakes, etc.), but you wouldn’t choose a sedan for an off-roading excursion. In other words, the vehicles are intended for very different applications. The same is true for precision air conditioning or thermal management systems.
As recently as a couple of years ago, the need to maintain precise temperature and humidity control in an IT space was a top priority for data center managers and a primary motivator behind the purchase of a precision air conditioning system. Over the last several years, however, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has relaxed its recommendations and widened the temperature and humidity ranges deemed acceptable within environments that house sensitive IT equipment, including data centers, server rooms, network closets, technology rooms, or other spaces like medical equipment suites, laboratories, and telecommunications centers. Consequently, precision cooling in its most literal sense is no longer seen as the absolute necessity that it once was.
Furthermore, the consequences for exceeding recommended heat thresholds are just as serious as they ever were. Excessive heat can take a toll on equipment, leading to component failures or sometimes complete system shutdown, and it can all happen in a matter of minutes. IT equipment failures often snowball into unplanned downtime for a business, which comes at a staggeringly high cost that exceeds the cost of equipment damage and includes lost revenue opportunity, customer service disruption, and reputational damage that can persist long after the equipment is repaired, and the business is back up and running.