by Ali Kriscenski

Data center cooling is central to operational continuity and energy efficiency. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) is one tool that can help identify strategies for data center optimization. CFD utilizes data analysis, fluid mechanics, and heat transfer to understand the physical behavior of fluids including gasses. For data centers, this modeling technology can identify how airflow and heat transfer affect data center equipment design and management.


Understanding Data Center Cooling Requirements

Data center equipment needs to provide consistent and efficient operational support. To do so, the networks of routers, switches, firewalls, servers, and controls need proper environmental conditions. Humidity and temperature control play a key role in keeping equipment running and operating efficiently.

The servers and equipment within a data center generate substantial heat. This creates a cooling demand that can comprise as much as fifty percent of energy usage. It is often the most energy-intensive aspect of data center management. 

Data center optimization considers the performance, efficiency, and reliability of the equipment, as well as energy use. Cooling is a primary concern, as equipment can overheat leading to reduced performance or failure.


Role of CFD 

While data centers require optimal temperature settings, they are also dynamic environments where heat generation, thermal transfer, and airflow patterns shift and change. CFD empowers data center teams to understand airflow and temperature throughout their facility. CFD simulations allow data center teams to see airflow and temperature as a visual display.

This capability allows data center teams to identify where airflow and temperature are properly maintained or where adjustments are needed. As a virtual model, CFD simulations can help reveal areas that aren’t properly cooled and why. With this information, solutions such as moving equipment or adjusting air conditioning placement can be modeled.


Key CFD Focus Areas

CFD can help teams focus on a few key factors that can have a significant impact on data center performance. Airflow and temperature patterns visualized with CFD can identify how data center equipment interacts with HVAC. Where CFD reveals hotspots or airflow restrictions can inform strategies for rearranging servers or replacing equipment.

A CFD simulation can also help inform HVAC adjustments, such as fan speeds, volume settings, temperature settings, or device placement. 

CFD Data Centers 1

Benefits of CFD

A top benefit of CFD is improved energy efficiency and reduced operational costs. With CFD, data center teams can work together with HVAC experts to optimize energy performance, both the facility and the building’s HVAC systems.

As energy efficiency improves, and cooling objectives are maintained, the performance of servers and other facility components also improves. This reduces equipment defaults or failures and adds to the lifespan of data center components. 

A well-performing data center is more reliable. When a data center is cooled effectively and running at optimal performance there is a reduction in downtime and a decreased risk of operational disruption. Preventative measures to avoid equipment failure minimize financial risk.

As energy-intensive facilities, data centers can play a significant role in energy efficiency strategies. CFD can help model and document energy-efficient improvements to meet industry standards.


Getting Started

Whether your data center is in the design phase or well into its lifespan, CFD can be utilized to maximize energy and equipment performance. This tool can help your team improve operational efficiency, create cost savings, and reach sustainability goals.

Data centers are critical infrastructure for most businesses today. Optimal data center performance can be achieved with tools like CFD and expertise from HVAC professionals like Therma. Contact Therma today to get started.



Ali Kriscenski was trained in high-performance building design at Boston Architectural College. She has worked with leading architecture and construction firms in NYC and New England and served on the executive team at the Forest Stewardship Council International. She was the managing editor at Inhabitat and has worked pro bono for the Green Building Institute, ISEAL Alliance and Habitat for Humanity.



Computer World – Sustainable IT: an environmental and social approach to business tech

Data Center Dynamics – Cooling in IT Performance and Efficiency