Particle Concentrations in Data Centers
Cooling buildings with large airflow rates of outside air when temperatures are favorable is an established energy-saving measure. In data centers, this strategy is not widely used, owing to concerns that it would cause increased indoor levels of particles of outdoor origin, which could damage electronic equipment. However, environmental conditions typical of data centers and the associated potential for equipment failure are not well characterized. This study presents the first published measurements of particle concentrations in operating data centers. Indoor and outdoor particle measurements were taken at eight different sites in northern California for particulate matter 0.3–5.0 pm in diameter. One of the data centers has an energy-efficient design that employs outside air for cooling, while the rest use conventional cooling methods. Ratios of measured particle concentrations in the conventional data centers to the corresponding outside concentrations were significantly lower than those typically found in office or residential buildings. Estimates using a material-balance model match well with empirical results, indicating that the dominant particle sources and losses have been identified. Measurements taken at the more energy-efficient site show nearly an order of magnitude increase in particle concentration when ventilation rates were high. The model indicates that this increase may be even higher when including particles smaller than the monitoring-equipment size limitation. Even with the increases, the measured particle concentrations are still below concentration limits recommended in industry standards.