With so much emphasis now being focused on 24/365 operation and the well-being of staff, humidity monitoring and control in data centres and offices is set to play a vital role in achieving the goals of IT and Human Resources departments over the next 5 years.
As a human-being you will know how the fluctuations in humidity can affect you – in particular whether you feel hot or cold. The reason for this is that the key method our body uses to cool itself – evaporative cooling – is less effective when humidity is increased because evaporation occurs at a slower rate. The opposite of this is also true, which is why it can feel even colder in the winter when humidity is low. Those of us who work in air-conditioned offices or fly frequently will also be aware of other effects of low humidity levels such as dry skin and excessive thirst. Our day-to-day comfort is affected by the environment in which we live and work. Studies show that if we are more comfortable then we are more likely to work efficiently and make fewer mistakes.
Anyone who has ever spilt coffee on their laptop can attest to the fact that liquids and electronic equipment don’t get along. When humidity levels are high it is possible for water droplets to form on delicate PCB’s causing short circuits. However, low humidity levels can also be detrimental to IT equipment as this creates an environment whereby static charges can build up more easily. When this static electricity is discharged, components such as the capacitors and transistors found in solid state devices can fail. As you can see, there is a balancing act to play in order to ensure you minimise the chance of humidity-related problems in your IT environment.
ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers) is an extremely well-respected body of knowledge and information when it comes to the cooling, heating and air management. Their latest guidelines recommend a RH of 40-60% in your data centre or server room.
Before you can effectively manage the humidity levels in your Data Centre or Server Room you first need to have a good understanding of the environmental conditions within your IT environment that may require particular focus. Therefore, you will obviously need to monitor and log the conditions within the environment before, during and after implementing humidity control measures.
Once you have an understanding of the task you face, you can begin to implement a suitable humidity control system. Many dedicated precision cooling units found in data centres will include a humidifier that can be used to maintain a constant RH. In some instances the humidifier may be a separate standalone unit and in these cases it is important to ensure that the humidifier and AC unit work together to create the desired room conditions without increasing energy usage. Particular attention should also be paid to air management within your location. If you live in a region that is subject to unusually high or low humidity levels then you should aim to minmise the impact of those extremes by ensuring that humidity is not increased or decreased by water vapour travelling through porous walls, windows, doors, ceilings etc.