Data Center Containment – 4 Things to Consider

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A colossal amount of energy is consumed every day to maintain a moderate intake of temperature to the IT equipment. There has been no higher positive impact on the cooling of data centers than the introduction of containment.

Data center containment has practically transformed the way IT facilities are designed and run across the world. In fact, according to the 2018 survey by Uptime Institute, 80% of the sites have implemented either cold or hot aisle containment. Although the surveyed companies were mostly of larger scale, even medium and small-scale companies are incorporating containment in one form or another.

But What Really is Data Center Containment?

In simple words, data center containment is the separation of cold supply airflow from the hot air produced by equipment exhaust. This seemingly simple separation creates a consistent and predictable supply temperature to the intake of IT equipment in addition to warmer, drier return air to the AC coil. Companies worldwide have saved millions of dollars by reducing energy consumption and improving overall equipment performance.

Although data center containment has gone mainstream at a rapid rate, many people still struggle to comprehend the different options and strategies available to choose.

Here we have presented 4 things to consider before implementing data center containment.

Hot Aisle Containment VS Cold Aisle Containment

There’s an ongoing debate on whether it’s better to contain hot aisle or cold aisle. One thing to know – both hot and cold aisle containment’s goal is the same – to separate the flow path of the conditioned air from exhaust air. Although different data experts preach different theories, the approach is mostly dictated by the existing infrastructure.

For instance, data centers with targeted supply and flood return air distribution would benefit from cold aisle containment. Whereas, data centers with targeted return and flooded supply air distribution would yield better results from hot aisle containment.

There are also other factors that determine whether to isolate hot aisle or cold aisle: the depth of the raised floor plenum, variation of ceiling height, presence of overhead cabling, and support column locations. Also, both strategies have their own set of benefits and challenges. However, we should keep in mind that every computer room is unique, and there is no one universal solution.

Knowing your IT Equipment Arrangement

After the existing infrastructure is reviewed, the second step is to analyze the current IT equipment arrangement. As a result of expansion or consolidation, data centers often have offset rows consisting of multiple server rack brands in all shapes and sizes.

Ergonomic factors such as clearance or personnel traffic should be assessed and planned accordingly as well. For instance, End-of-aisle-doors should be configured to best suit the traffic patterns with the data center. It will make the space more comfortable to work in when shifting racks and other items in and out.   

It is also very important to consider the amount of customization that will be required for the containment system to perform optimally, especially if there is minimum uniformity with the IT equipment. While there are containment systems that promise to accommodate all level of variations, it is best to adopt a customized and flexible solution.

Fire Detection and Suppression

Fire suppression in data center is a complicated process. It is important to inform the local fire department as soon as you plan to integrate an airflow containment system. In addition to enforcing the local codes and standards in the jurisdiction, the Fire Marshal can also potentially provide insights on how to achieve compliance from the start.

There are several reliable containment systems available today that are built exclusively for use under a fire suppression system. However, potential implications linked with the containment approach still need to be met.

For instance, a vertical containment system which incorporates softwall curtains would need to account for the needed clearance space below the sprinkler level if the facility is equipped with a sprinkler-based suppression system. It will insure full dispersal of water in the event of a fire. However, such a system also needs to take into account the need to consider what softwall material is being utilized.

Electrical Utility Incentives

There is a high probability that your electrical utility provider has a system of incentives and rebates for organizations that take active actions to decrease power usage in their data centers. The utility might have specific stipulations in place like approved equipment, approved contractors, and other requirements. It is important to take these factors into account as soon as you start the design process, rather than after the process of installment has begun. There are quite a few time windows to utilize these advantages effectively.

In conclusion, we would like to say that data centers are complicated and there are many factors that need to be addressed when designing an effective airflow containment solution. While creating plans for airflow containment, it is only recommended to work with reputable and credible manufacturers who have the capability to analyze the space and relate airflow and containment goals with the data center’s site-specific infrastructures. After all, integration of data center containment should guarantee highest levels of efficacies and enable modular, affordable, and scalable growth.

TRAX data center containment solutions are currently being used by some of the most recognized names in the high tech world.
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