Data center facilities pro

Oct 25 2010   8:37PM GMT

The case for raised floors in the data center

Matt Stansberry Matt Stansberry Profile: Matt Stansberry

What’s new in raised floors for data center applications? I recently spoke with Daniel Kennedy, data center product manager at Jessup, MD-based Tate Access Floors about some of the new products the company rolled out at AFCOM, and the future of raised floors in increasingly dense data center environment.

A lot of large enterprise data centers have made the transition to slab floors, moving away from raised floors and perforated tiles. Overhead air distribution is in vogue, and our columnist Chuck Goolsbee laid out the case for slab floors back in ’07: Data center raised floor vs. solid debate.

But Kennedy said companies that are building data centers on slab floors typically have a very specific hardware deployment pattern in place. “They have a set model that will last ten years, and then they build another data center. They stay right on the bleeding edge,” Kennedy said. “But raised floor shines from a flexibility standpoint — you’re able to reconfigure a site on a long-term basis. You think you know what your data center will look like next year, but if you need it to last longer, you need to be able to make changes.

“If your IT density increases too much for under-floor cooling, the raised floor makes an excellent place to run chilled water. People couldn’t have predicted row based cooling systems or chilled water doors, but obviously we’ve got those in the market now. Who knows what the next 15 years will hold? If you’re trying to get the most life out of a building that you can, the raised floor will give you flexibility.”

But what about equipment density outweighing the floor rating? Kennedy said it’s a myth. The solid tiles are rated to 3,000 pounds, and a typical rack takes up two panels, so a blade chassis would need to go near 6,000 pounds before it stressed the raised floor.

Kennedy said Tate has never run into a user that hasn’t been able to put data center equipment on the raised floor because it was too heavy. He said it’s difficult to find a rack that weighs 3,000 pounds.

The three new Tate raised floor products include:

-A directional airflow grate that can angle airflow directly into the rack face, instead of blowing air 90-degrees straight up in a vertical column. Kennedy said around 50% of the air in a standard grate bypasses the rack altogether. “You spend a lot of money moving that air around, better to put it into the IT equipment if you can.”

-Tate also rolled out a damper system called SmartAire, which helps balance static pressure under the floor. In a heterogeneous data center, racks are going to require varying amounts of airflow, and that demand may shift throughout the day. The dampers can restrict airflow on lower density racks and increase airflow in a higher density spots, using on electronic sensors at the rack.

-PowerAire is the third product, a variable speed fan that throttles up and down based on temperatures at the face of the rack. The product is meant to deal with varying cooling requirements throughout the day, and to make sure that high density deployments, like blade servers, get the airflow they need.

Kennedy said these kinds of products have been commercial office space for thirty years. “Office cooling loads are variable, people go out to lunch and open windows,” he said. “You didn’t have that much variability on the data center side until more recently. The commercial office space went through this change in the 70s and 80s. The data center is still catching up from a technological standpoint.”

Check out our tip on keeping under the raised floor clean.

Are raised floors going away any time soon? Weigh in on Twitter by replying @DataCenterTT.

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