Avoiding IT noise at the workplace

Reduce noise and stress levels at the same time

SMEs, or companies with limited space, often face a problem: where to position their important IT infrastructure/datacenter? Placing servers or storage systems next to a work desk reduces necessary cabling, but everyone involved has to put up with the annoying noisy fans, and sometimes even drives. And this additional audible stress should not be underestimated.

After all, the working conditions in a data centre are different from those within an office. As a result, servers for the data centre can sometimes reach the noise level of a powerful vacuum machine. No one in the immediate vicinity of the server can withstand this noise for long without having their concentration impaired.

But what can be done about excessive noise emissions?

Relocate

First try to find a room for the servers or, if necessary, build one. Nowadays, walls – including noise insulation – can be erected in no time at all using drywall, for example, to convert an alcove into a small room. Alternatively, there are also insulated racks for rackmount servers that can absorb a considerable portion of the noise.

By the way, we have storage systems with Thunderbolt 3 in our range that can be networked within a radius of up to 50 metres via our optical cables. You don’t even need complex installation work or network sockets for this.

Virtualise

If you already have a few servers in use, virtualisation would also be a viable option: retire your physical servers and virtualise their tasks. One of our silent servers (under 30db(A) emissions) could replace all your existing servers by transforming them into Virtual Machines. After all, noise emissions increase with the number of running physical servers.

Alternatively, a cloud solution would also be possible, which would then be outsourced to a data centre in a noise-tolerant manner. Many server tasks could be virtualised in this way through hybrid cloud or cloud counterparts.

Check

Perhaps your server is also a matter for our support. Defective hard disks or fans with bearing damage can also become very loud under certain circumstances. Our technicians in Kirchheim unter Teck will check your hardware thoroughly, replace defective components and clear the air ducts. They will also be able to present you with suggestions for improvements to streamline your system straight away.

Configure

Most modern servers and enterprise workstations will let you configure their cooling fans speeds, in addition to the uptime and the acoustic level of their spinning hard drives.

Colling fans speed can be controlled via pulse-width modulation (PWM). The slower the fan speed the lower the noise it emits. For a machine with plenty of fans, reducing the fans RPMs down to %50 can make a huge difference.

If your hard drives support Advanced Acoustic Management (AAM), you are in luck because you can configure the drive to produce the least amount of noise when reading/writing data. Be aware though of the possible performance impacts of such settings as they could favour quietness over read/write speed. You might want to experiment and benchmark to make sure it works for you.

You can also configure your systems to spin-down the disk drives when they are not accessed for a specific amount of time. For instance, TrueNAS allows you to choose between 6 pre-defined levels of hard drive power consumption.

If you work in an airconditioned environment and your server or workstation is not doing any heavy computations, the chances are that you do not really need the colling fans spinning at maximum RPM all the time.

Same logic applies to servers with spinning hard drives that you do not constantly store or retrieve data from. If you do not need those drives spinning at all times, then consider one or a combination of the above configurable features. Check your server/workstation manual for details.

Server noise reduction
A disk in a TrueNAS storage server, configured to spin down after 60-minutes of idling, consume the least amount of power, and produce less seek noise

Rebuild

Perhaps it is about time to rebuild some of your machines with less noisy, or even silent, components. If you are planning on increasing your current storage capacity you might want to consider a newer drive model with less dB noise rating. If you are looking for absolute performance then SSD disk will not only give you more performance, but absolute silence – because they have no moving/mechanical parts.

A passive CPU heatsink is another component you can change. Just make sure your case is well ventilated and is operation in a temperature-controlled environment.

You might also want to consider a quitter power supply unit. Many are available for workstations with up to Zero dB. Just make sure you select the proper wattage and form-factor for your machine.

Soak

Immersion Cooling is a relatively new technology that has found its way into datacentres. The idea is old and simple: replace air – as a heat-removal medium – with a liquid, to improves hardware reliability, lowers power consumption, and almost eliminate noise.

The liquid used in this new technology is a special electrically non-conducting type of oil produces by petroleum companies like 3M and Shell.

Even established OEMs like Dell, Supermicro, and Gigabyte are teaming up with companies to produce solutions that can fit today’s varying needs. From large data centres to micro-pods that can host tens of kilowatts of compute power. If you run an intensive workload, your servers are constantly crunching numbers, your power bill is always increasing, and you are up for an adventurous overhaul of your datacentre, take a look at the work being done by companies like Submer and GRCooling.

Protect

Noise-cancelling headphones are quite an efficient tool for supressing higher-frequency noise patterns, such as those emitted by cooling fans. Modern ones are both advanced and relatively affordable. At Starline, many of our engineers favour the Sony WH-1000XM4 for its comfort, light weight, and absolute top-in-class noise cancellation abilities. It also has an Ambient and Voice recognition abilities which, for instance, allows the headphones to prioritise the human voices of colleagues trying to talk to each other – while wearing the headphones. It basically shifts the focus away from music more towards the voice of the person who is trying to talk to you. Quite a useful thing in a work place.  

If your work environment can tolerate wearing headphones, those will make a huge difference for you.

A cheaper alternative would be the old mouldable silicone earplugs. They are popular, especially in extreme noise environments. They have their own set of downsides though. While wearing such device, and because they block all sound waves without discrimination, you must be more alert to your surroundings. You also have to replace them more regularly to avoid possible ear infections

Starline contact

Any questions? Please contact us.

In 2018, Bernd Widmaier celebrated his 25th anniversary with Starline. With great experience and broad knowledge – combined with high customer orientation – he heads our sales team. However, he also contributes plenty to sales himself and frequently represents Starline externally at events. The VFB fan has an excellent knowledge of various vertical markets, such as Mac, video storage and media streaming, which earns him the exhibition booth support at the IBC in Amsterdam every year.

Bernd Widmaier
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