Industry experts long ago predicated the demise of raised floor cooling. Today, there are viable cooling alternatives, but raised floor cooling continues to keep its hold in the data center. Just as we watched skeptically as some have unsuccessfully tried to prophesize the end of the world, we’re still waiting to see raised floors go out of style.
To be fair, data center experts who suggested raised floors would not be the cooling solution of tomorrow had much better information to back up their prediction than the man on the street corner waving an apocalypse sign. Increasing computing needs, denser racks and an increased focus on energy efficiency all seemed to signal the end of raised flooring.
The problem with raised floors is that directing the cool air beneath a raised floor isn’t always enough to meet the cooling demands of many current dense server styles. Opening the floor simply reduces the pressure of cooled air, and adding more cooling may not be a desirable (or cost-effective) answer. As point cooling and other containment tactics gain acceptance, raised floor cooling continues to be relevant in the data center.
There are now simple solutions for many of the inherent problems with raised floor cooling. Directional grates can angle chilled air at equipment to improve cooling efficiency. One complaint many data center managers cite with raised floor cooling is the inability to adjust cooling needs to changing power use and hotspots. It is simply impractical to add or move vented tiles any time cooling needs change in the data center. However, there are products that attempt to address dynamic power use and hotspots, which were once the downfall of raised floor cooling. Electronically controlled dampers, such as Tate Access Floors Inc.’s SmartAire, can limit the movement of chilled air based on inlet air temperatures to make sure the chilled air isn’t “wasted” on equipment that doesn’t need it. Although they aren’t the ideal solution, fans that can throttle up based on changing needs can help cool hotspots. When implemented correctly, these solutions can go a long way toward improving energy efficiency, which has been seen as one of the chief drawbacks of raised floor cooling.
In most cases, it’s more important to pay attention to what is happening to chilled air between the floor and ceiling. Improvements to raised floor cooling infrastructure show that administrators should spend less time looking at the type of floor they use and more time considering blanking panels and addressing overlooked problems with containment solutions.
Raised flooring isn’t the perfect cooling solution, but it certainly has a place in the modern data center. With more tools than ever allowing administrators to make the most out of the infrastructure they have, raised floors could be around for longer than anyone expects.