Why do network switches overheat?

Why do network switches overheat?

Overheating network switches can affect service delivery.

Part of managing a data center facility is making sure that critical equipment is well-maintained. This doesn't just mean catching infrastructure problems early and mitigating them quickly. It also means doing everything in your power to prevent them from happening the first place.

One way in which many cloud and IT service providers may be risking operational failures is poor cooling practices. Data center equipment is notorious for generating heat, and a lot of it. In fact, some researchers believe that it might actually make sense to route heat from data center facilities into nearby buildings. Instead of using gas for heating, these neighboring buildings would rely on servers. Another fascinating attempt to control cooling efforts is Microsoft's recent attempt to submerge a data center in the ocean.

Alas, both of these methodologies will not be ready for use at scale in the foreseeable future. For now, cloud providers will have to be very smart about how they use cooling components. One of the first things they need to understand is what exactly causes network switches to overheat.

Hardworking, under-appreciated hardware

The reason network switches are such a key area of focus when it comes to heating and cooling is that they are some of hardest-working pieces of equipment in the entire data center. This is because network switches are responsible for routing all data traffic for clients. Users who rely on the data stored within the cloud provider's facility can only connect to the servers because of network switches. Furthermore, these systems are often stored behind servers for easy access to cable inputs, which means they end up getting fanned by air pre-heated from other hardware. To ensure continuation of great service for clients, it's vital that management teams preempt the issues that could cause them to overheat. 

One potential blunder that could fry network switches is poor management of cooling equipment throughout the entire facility. Certain equipment may work harder than others, which means consolidating them to a confined area could create a hotspot. Any of the hardware in this high-temperature zone, including network switches, is more susceptible to overheating. 

Keeping data center equipment cool is essential for reliable cloud services.Keeping data center equipment cool is essential for reliable cloud services.

To avoid this, or to accommodate the conditions of unavoidable hotspots, data center managers must know where to deploy rack-based cooling components versus row-based cooling components. High-density racks will need localized cooling, but in some cases, room-based cooling will be enough to keep equipment within a safe temperature range. Making sure that the data center layout is ideal for airflow can also help by creating a more balanced environment with fewer hot and cold pockets.

"Cooling efforts can still be foiled by hardware's natural enemy: dust."

But even if a cloud provider does everything right – using the right components, optimizing airflow, etc. – their cooling efforts can still be foiled by hardware's natural enemy: dust. According to Data Center Knowledge contributor Kaushal Doshi, natural contaminants that make their way into the data center may include pollen, sea salt, wind-blown dust, construction particulates, dirty car fumes and a variety of other natural and artificial fibers. These are capable of clogging up cooling fans, which makes them run more inefficiently. In addition to increasing energy consumption by as much as 2 percent, failure to clean equipment could precipitate overheating of critical hardware. No cloud provider wants to have to explain that the recent service hiccups are a result of piggish data center conditions. 

Your network switches deserve only the best

Data center managers at cloud facilities are the ones who are responsible for coming up with a smart cooling game plan. They're also in charge of doing everything they can to optimize airflow and minimize the risk of hotspots. Equally as important, they need to make sure that equipment is regularly cleaned to avoid inefficiencies with cooling equipment. 

But before they do any of this, their first chore when it comes to efficient data center cooling is shopping for the actual components. It's vital that the product they choose has an easy-to-use management interface. They must also make sure that the cooling components do what they need them to do. 

Finally, data center managers need to make network switches a top priority when looking for proper cooling equipment. Geist Cool Active SwitchAir ensures that cool air reaches equipment regardless of where it is located on a rack. This means that rather than getting warm air that's already passed through servers, network switches are guaranteed to feel the breeze. In chorus with the best practices mentioned above, data center managers at cloud facilities can be confident that their network switches, and their customers, won't overheat.