When we conduct our complimentary IT assessment for a prospective customer, one question we’re frequently asked is “Can we do anything to cut down on the noise in our server room?”
Most older office facilities in the Bay Area simply weren’t designed to accommodate heavy computer equipment operating 24/7. And every new server added to a data center contributes to that endless noise. The effects can range from a nagging inconvenience—difficulty hearing phone calls—to levels approaching OSHA’s workplace noise limit (85 decibels). Long-term exposure to noise at this level can have serious consequences, such as tinnitus—a constant ringing in the ears.
Even if completely soundproofing your server room isn’t a viable option, health experts agree that lowering noise levels by as little as a few decibels can markedly reduce employee fatigue and increase productivity.
From the Inside Out
A quieter server room starts with a fortified interior. For rooms with wood walls, remove the exterior surface and fill the spaces between the beams with fiberglass or other heavy insulation, or add a layer of sheetrock to concrete walls. Vinyl sound barriers or acoustic tiles are a good supplemental noise-killer, as are sound baffles suspended from the ceiling. Just make sure everything is properly fire-rated, fiber-free (to prevent clogging in fans), and provides full 360-degree coverage—without any exposed openings that can produce a concentrated “megaphone” effect.
Next, reduce the noise from the servers themselves by replacing “standard” open metal racks—which often reverberate and actually add to the overall noise—with noise-isolating closed cabinets. There’s a wide variety of cabinets on the market today specially designed to contain server noise via layers of foam sound insulation. But it’s important to choose a cabinet with adequate ventilation to prevent the server from overheating. Many mid-range cabinets include built-in auxiliary AC fans to circulate airflow.
Servers are particularly noisy because of the fans required to keep the equipment from overheating. Arbitrarily reducing the speed of a cooling fan—simply flipping the switch from “high” to “low”—can be dangerous, but a server can often be fine-tuned to reduce the amount of heat generated by its CPU, thus reducing the cooling power required.
As vendors are designing most new equipment to be quieter than earlier generations, a noisy older server can usually be made more tolerable by upgrading the fans with newer, quieter units.
How much of a distraction is server noise at your company? Would a quieter work environment be more productive? Let’s see if we can help.