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Why your CFO cares about air-flow management in your data center

Obviously, your objective as CIO is to push innovation and keep your data center up and running—while staying within budget. Your CFO controls costs and keeps your organization in operation. And, your facility manager is in charge of maintaining heating and ventilation systems. Where do these three different agendas converge? Data center air-flow management.

Dollars and sense

Do you or your CFO know how much your organization pays to cool your data center? What is IT's portion of the overall electric bill? Why does this matter? Consider this: A cooling unit providing 10 tons of cooling output can handle more than 35 kW of IT load. The electrical costs to run a compressor, keep fans going, and address humidification requirements for that 10 tons of cooling can exceed $15,000 per year. Money talks. Being able to divert that kind of money from utility bills to your IT budget makes data center air-flow management much more appealing.

Air-flow management

Air-flow management is the most common way to increase a data center's energy efficiency while increasing its cooling capacity. It prevents cold and hot air from mixing in your data center and it can be as simple as arranging equipment a certain way. The big savings potential is in the details. For example, dividers can be added to keep hot air generated by servers separate from chilled air being vented into the room. As a result, your data center's air conditioners work less and you could decrease your data center's cooling costs by as much as 50 percent.
Air isolation

One essential aspect of air-flow management is air isolation. Simply put, it means stopping leaks. For instance, if you have perforated tiles in front of your computer room air conditioners and handlers, you're going to have cold air escaping before it ever reaches your servers. In turn, the equipment works that much harder and electricity costs increase. So, you need solid floor panels and perforated tiles in the right places.

Another air isolation best practice is installing brush grommets on your raised floor to conceal the holes created by power and network data cables. The grommets look like a narrow box with a bristle brush opening. Your cables will be able to pass through your raised floor while the grommet will prevent air from escaping.

Air containment

Air containment uses physical barriers to prevent hot and cold air mixing. There are rack containment and aisle containment strategies. Both options involve installing blanking panels—narrow steel or plastic sheets that fill in any open spaces in your server rack. The more servers you have stacked on top of each other, the more essential it is to utilize blanking panels and implement airflow management strategies.

Provided you've also addressed air isolation issues, your servers, with the aid of blanking panels, will reliably pull cool air in from the front of a server and push warm air out the back. That heat can easily be contained in the rack and redirected into your hot air return plenum. That's rack containment.

Aisle containment starts with having distinct hot and cold aisles (i.e., arranging server racks so that the server outlets face each other—hot aisle—and server inlets face each other—cold aisle). Simply having hot and cold aisles isn't going to prevent air mixing or protect your servers. The solution to your problem is inspired from grocery store coolers. Thin plastic strips can be hung from your data center ceiling and cut to fit around your server racks. Now, your hot and cold aisles are truly isolated and the air doesn't mix. Simple, but brilliant.

Higher set point temperature with lower fan speeds

Implementation of an airflow management system will minimize or even eliminate hotspots and provide a more reliable cooling solution for your computer equipment—empowering you to increase your data center's set point temperature to maximize energy savings.

Most computer room cooling units do not have a variable speed fan motor. The amount of energy used by the fan motor can exceed 70 percent of the total energy consumed by the cooling unit. By implementing an airflow management system and installing variable speed fan motors on compatible cooling units, you can significantly decrease your data center cooling costs.

Focus can help

Focus energy advisors can provide unbiased, third-party information and energy analysis to determine the financial impact of air-flow management in your data center. Your Focus energy advisor will provide expert advice and determine if your project qualifies for a Focus financial incentive.

Focus customers who have completed air-flow management projects will be on hand at the Energy-Efficient Computing Summit on Monday, May 16 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. This event allows you to ask other CIOs about their IT energy-efficiency efforts and what the payoff has been. For more details, visit the computing summit webpage and hurry, the next ten registrants will receive a $20 discount when entering discount code: FocusTraining.

Last word

Everything is connected. Endorsing IT energy efficiency fuels your worth at an organization. It's time to bring the CFO, CIO, and facility manager to the table to develop an airflow management plan today.

Geoff Overland is Focus on Energy's business development manager for IT and data centers. His specialty is helping Wisconsin organizations implement and benefit from energy-efficiency computing technologies. He has 15 years of experience in the IT industry, and has served in operations director and CIO roles. Contact Geoff via email.

Focus on Energy works with eligible Wisconsin residents and businesses to install cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Focus information, resources, and financial incentives help to implement projects that otherwise would not be completed, or to complete projects sooner than scheduled. Its efforts help Wisconsin residents and businesses manage rising energy costs, promote in-state economic development, protect our environment, and control the state's growing demand for electricity and natural gas. For more information, call 800.762.7077 or visit Focus on Energy.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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