I live in Montreal, where the temperature oscillates between a max of 27 celsius in summer and a min of -27 celsius in winter. I am currently in the process of purchasing a cheap decommissioned 2U server with enough cores and RAM for computational scientific work, and I need to find a place for it. It came to my mind that with a waterproof outdoor rack putting the server in the balcony may actually be a possibility!

I have heard many debates about the optimal operating temperature of rack servers (21-27), but most discussions focus on the cost of air conditioning. What if we can keep the temperatures naturally low? What are the consequences of such a treatment? And what about the humidity tolerances of the servers? How much humidity is too much?

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This is going to depend on your specific hardware. If you google for "[your server model] humidity tolerance" or "[your server model] rated temperature" you'll probably find an article like this or this. These numbers vary widely by manufacturer and model; at one point I had a series of servers, one model of which had a maximum rated temperature of 95F while another had a maximum rated temperature of 86F. I was also given poorly air-conditioned network closets to store them.

Generally, the usual consequence of the model rated for a maximum of 86F overheating was that the RAID card would die, although heat also toasted the RAM once. Also, the server stored in a completely non-air-conditioned room in Georgia with a hole in the ceiling through which one could see sky had a tendency to greyscreen when it got too warm. I ended up swapping it out with a machine from surplus that was on wheels (lower to the ground) and had a higher temperature rating, since I was informed that they would not be fixing the AC in that room.

All of which is my long-winded way of saying: It depends on your hardware. In my experience, abused hardware performs poorly and randomly loses components. Check the specs.

(It's also worth mentioning that someone might walk off with your server unless you secure it in some manner.)

  • 2
    Dell has hardware specifically designed to be cooled with outdoor air. Add a waterproof outdoor server rack and you're in business. – Michael Hampton Feb 22 '15 at 3:14
  • The information contained in those links was actually what I was searching for. Interestingly I had not been able to find those for the model I am looking into (a Gen 6 Proliant). Seems balcony is not a very good idea (although ours is safe and secure...). – retrography Feb 22 '15 at 6:46
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    It's near the end of this document. Maximum rated temp: 95F/35C, with some caveats about rate of change. Minimum rated temp: 50F/10C. Humidity 10% to 90%. – Katherine Villyard Feb 22 '15 at 23:35

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