Maintaining the best data center cooling often relies on finding a containment solution that fits the specific needs of your server room. Data center containment can reduce the airflow requirement to IT equipment and improve cooling efficiency. Most data centers and colocations have adopted either Hot Aisle Containment or Cold Aisle Containment. As rack densities increase, cabinet level containment solutions are proving to be more efficient and easier to install in some server rooms.
As rack densities increase, keeping IT equipment cool has become more of a challenge. Containment is a practical solution to save money once a load density reaches 5 kW, and is essential for densities above 10 kW to prevent equipment overheating and possible loss of uptime.
With an airflow containment system in place, data centers can reduce the airflow requirement to their equipment by 20-25%. A data center also increases the efficiency of the cooling infrastructure by increasing the temperature differential between the CRAC supply and return air.
There are three containment solutions that are usually implemented in a colocation or data center space. Hot Aisle Containment (HAC) and Cold Aisle Containment (CAC) are the two most common solutions. These both have advantages and disadvantages from one another depending upon the data center design.
Both HAC and CAC must adhere to fire regulations within the jurisdiction. Some HAC and CAC solutions require modifications to the fire mitigation system before they can be implemented. Other HAC and CAC solutions are not as efficient as they could be when they are retrofitted in a server room space.
Some data center operators are using cabinet level containment as an alternative approach to cooling. This newer approach has advantages over the other two containment solutions.
Hot Aisle Containment
Hot Aisle Containment is the better option when the cooling infrastructure relies on an overhead plenum to return hot air to the CRAC. HAC is where the exhaust air from IT equipment is isolated using vertical cabinet panels, aisle containment doors, and aisle chimneys to funnel the hot air from the racks to the return air plenum.
HAC is a better option in new build outs. When trying to retrofit an HAC solution, ladder racks, network cable trays and other infrastructure must be accommodated. This means engineering brush cutouts where the hot and cold air can intermingle and lower the cooling efficiency.
Open top HAC infrastructure is often better at accessing the existing fire system without making extreme modifications to the infrastructure, but it can be less efficient for the cooling system. Rack to ceiling HAC may require modifying the fire mitigation system significantly, but is more efficient in isolating hot and cold air from one another.
Cold Aisle Containment
Cold Aisle Containment is a better option in server rooms with an open-air floor plan and no overhead return air plenum. CAC is when cabinets and racks are isolated using aisle containment doors and roof panels. CAC can be easier to retrofit in existing spaces because it doesn’t interfere with overhead structures. However, because of egress in the aisle containment doors, hot and cold air will still intermingle as people enter and exit the space, which can lower cooling efficiency.
CAC will likely require more modifications to the existing fire mitigation system. CAC systems usually rely on a drop or melt out ceiling tiles so that the fire system can access equipment. This solution may require altering the fire detection system and rerouting the existing fire system as well.
Cabinet Level Containment
Cabinet Level Containment provides a hybrid solution to the previous two containment systems. Cabinet Level Containment is where the hot air is directly pumped to the return air plenum by a chimney from the cabinet itself as opposed to having an aisle long spanning chimney.
The hot air is completely isolated from the server room with no intermingling due to accommodating existing data center infrastructure.
Cabinet Level Containment is as easy to install into new construction as the other two methods of HAC and CAC.
Cabinet Level Containment eliminates the need to adhere to a traditional HAC/CAC layout of cabinets in the server room and has the most versatility.
Cabinet Level Containment is modular and easier to scale in that it can be retrofitted in legacy data centers as needed to eliminate hot spots or retrofitted to the whole aisle.
The Data Center Infrastructure Solution?
Every server room has a different infrastructure. Some server rooms will benefit from using HAC over CAC, especially if it is a new buildout. Other legacy server rooms will have a more difficult time maneuvering overhead infrastructure and have less cooling efficiency with an HAC solution, and thus should consider CAC or Cabinet Level Containment.
When all is considered, it depends on your load density, infrastructure, and future business plans to determine which data center containment solution is right for your data center or colocation.
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