4 Ways Circuit Board Design Can Influence Data Center Cooling

By: Kayla Matthews on May 18, 2020

Data center cooling is a crucial part of keeping facilities running smoothly. People may not immediately think of a link between circuit board design and equipment kept at a cool temperature, but here are four reasons why they should. 

1. Proper Circuit Board Thermal Management Keeps Temperature Levels Safe

Circuit board heat levels rise due to the flow of current. Thus, designers make a variety of choices to aid with dissipation and ensure temperatures stay in a safe operating range.

Placing components that produce a lot of warmth near the middle of the circuit board promotes heat dissipation around the device, provided there is ample air circulation. Additionally, using thick copper traces when selecting the circuit board wiring offers a larger surface area to help heat escape. 

Data center servers — including server blades — are examples of equipment that contains circuit boards. The same is true for any computer facility managers may use to monitor performance and make changes. Paying attention to thermal management design choices promotes the reliable performance of essential data center equipment. 

2. High Heat Generation Requires a New Mindset About Cooling

Data center equipment falls into the high heat generation category. For example, 6,900 households in Denmark enjoy warm homes thanks to the waste heat provided by one of Facebook's data centers. 

The amount of heat generated by some equipment — combined with the push towards making some gadgets increasingly smaller — have pushed circuit board designers to reevaluate the best ways to maintain the desired temperature. 

Evaluating the work conditions and the typical environment is crucial for any circuit board design efforts. Such insights help designers choose which substrates to use for a printed circuit board (PCB), for example. Paper-based and composite substrates are generally unsuitable for high-heat applications, but ceramic and aluminum are more tolerant of temperature.

Since data center equipment produces a lot of heat and must run for long periods, people designing circuit boards for it must keep the typical use cases in mind and make smart choices to support reliable operation.

Maintaining clear communications between all the parties involved also helps increase the chances of design success. For example, creating two mechanical control drawings to show either the layout or manufacturing dimensions keeps design intentions clear. 

3. High-Tech Data Center Cooling Equipment Often Contains Circuit Boards

There is an ever-present need for data center cooling, and tech-centric companies rise to the challenge with an assortment of fascinating possibilities. Many of those inventions include circuit boards. The thoughtful design of those components often leads to a more reliable result overall. 

One example is a product made by Arizona's Forced Physics DCT. Its JouleForce conductor uses a passive ambient air system to pull heat away from computer chips and promote cooling. This setup reportedly cuts a data center's cooling requirements by 90% and could save the facility millions of dollars per year — money usually spent on energy and infrastructure costs. 

The JouleForce conductor's circuit boards appear on the outside of the build, rather than inside. That's one example of how product designers must think creatively about those components — as well as other parts — so that a finished good performs as expected. 

4. Circuit Board Data Can Aid in Facility Management Decisions

Data center managers are well-accustomed to monitoring temperature, humidity and traffic loads, continually scrutinizing the information to spot any worrisome trends. The engineers at Intel sought to give customers yet another way to gather data — from the circuit board itself. The board has sensors at each end to measure the temperature of cooling air as it enters the component, then again as it exits. 

Those statistics provide insights into power usage and management. Knowing those things could enable data center professionals to make more informed decisions during unexpected events, such as power outages or equipment failures. 

An Undeniable Link Between Circuit Board Design and Data Center Cooling

This list shows why people should always keep circuit board specifics in mind when assessing the best ways to build data center equipment that stays sufficiently cool. Circuit boards are not the only parts responsible for temperature management, but they play a crucial role. 

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