A Beginner’s Guide to Data Center Airflow Management


In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, data centers play a vital role in supporting a data-driven world. With the growing demand for efficient and sustainable IT operations, it is crucial to ensure optimal performance and cost-effectiveness for your data center. However, a key operational challenge is optimizing cooling performance. Proper data center airflow management involves a well-planned layout of the server racks, implementing containment systems, and utilizing precision cooling technologies. 

What Is Data Center Airflow Management?

When it comes to an efficient data center, it comes down to uptime requirements and operational costs. These two factors are essentially impacted by airflow management. Servers and computing equipment generate a lot of heat, so they require proper cooling airflow to maintain and increase efficiency. Overheating issues can lead to hardware failures, component damage, loss in uptime and productivity, increased costs, and more. 

Data center airflow management reduces operating costs and energy consumption. By implementing airflow management solutions such as rack fans, blanking panels, containment, and other initiatives, it helps to control the temperature in and around your IT equipment. As a result, this prevents your equipment from overheating and reduces potential downtime.

rackmount blanking panel
Blanking Panels

Key Steps To Optimize Cooling Performance

Airflow management is crucial for optimizing cooling performance in air-cooled data centers. It allows data centers to closely match the supply and demand of conditioned air. In raised floor data centers, there are 5 key steps to optimizing cooling performance

Step 1: Identify Cooling Issues 

For starters, you need to determine the factors that impact the airflow in the data center white space. The data center white space is the area designated for your IT equipment and infrastructure. This includes server racks, servers, network gear, air conditioning units, storage, and power distribution units. Factors that could impact the airflow within your data center white space are: 

  • Shape and size of the data center room 
  • Raised floor and ceiling heights 
  • Locations, types, and cooling unit settings 
  • Location and open area of perforated tiles
  • Location and open area of cutouts
  • Location and size of under-floor obstructions
  • Location, orientation, heat load, and airflow of cabinets
  • Location and size of above-floor obstructions

To help data center managers identify cooling issues, the Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modeling software simulates all these factors. You will be able to visualize temperature distribution, airflow patterns, and pressure differentials in computer rooms. Additionally, you 

can immediately identify where conditioned air is being lost and how the methods of managing airflow enhance the working environment and facilitate savings in cooling systems.

The objectives and methods of managing air circulation are to provide the precise amount and condition of air to the front of equipment within the enclosures. In order to do this, methods involve closing gaps that allow cooled air to escape, installing or removing perforated tiles, and separating warm and cold air to lessen the amount of cooled air needed by the equipment.

Step 2: Seal Openings 

Second, it is crucial to seal away any openings or space between data center racks. This will help you prevent higher operating expenses wasted on cooling capacity and limited efficiency. Openings can occur if a building column is present in an aisle or if a rack has been removed. If you don’t seal the openings, then exhaust air will enter the cold aisle, therefore reducing your equipment’s reliability. 

When the exhaust air mixes with supply air and increases intake temperatures, it requires more cooling units to be running or higher fan speeds. Furthermore, large volumes of conditioned air can be lost with unsealed gaps. If there is a loss of conditioned supply air, then you would need more cooling units to be running or higher fan speeds to overcome the loss of conditioned airflow volume.

To prevent any cooling issues, you should utilize airflow management accessories in the data center room and inside the cabinets. By modeling the effects of sealing openings, you can determine if the effects are positive. If they are positive, then brush-sealed or gasketed grommets can be used to seal the openings in raised floor tiles. Individual cables, cable bundles, power cords, or piping can then pass through the grommet’s opening with minimal leakage of conditioned air. 

In the CFD model, you should then create a top-to-bottom seal within each cabinet. Filler panels help to seal openings in rack-mount spaces in cabinets between rack-mount equipment.

2U Filler Panel
Filler Panel

Air dam kits seal the space between the equipment mounting rails and the top, bottom and side panels of the cabinet. With air dams, it creates a front-rear separation within the cabinet requiring conditioned air to pass though your equipment. This prevents heated air from circulating back to the front of the cabinet.

RackSolutions Air Dams
Air Dams

Step 3: Balance Airflow 

Third, the correct amount of airflow needs to be delivered to the cabinets once the openings are sealed. Since most data centers arrange cabinets around hot and cold aisles, it’s crucial to make sure there are no open floor tiles in the warm sections. The airflow provided to the warm aisle does not have a cooling effect on the racks. Floor tiles with vents should specifically be positioned in the cooler aisles, ensuring that supply air is directed towards the front of the equipment and cabinets. 

When the cabinet power and head load increases, the amount of air required also increases. To determine the correct combination of floor tiles needed, it is advantageous to simulate the impact of changing the degree of perforation on floor tiles. This delivers and increases more airflow in front of high-density cabinets.

Step 4: Add Containment to Isolate Hot and Cold Air

Fourth, you need to run the CFD model of the data center room with the suggested improvements. This will help you ensure adequate air circulation and satisfactory rack inlet temperatures. Air cooled rack-mount equipment uses internal fans to pull air through the equipment chassis. If there is a sufficient amount of cool air at the cabinet’s front, then warm air will be drawn in. The warm air could either circulate beneath, around, and back to the cabinet’s front. 

If inlet temperatures are still too high in the cold aisles, then you should add containment to block hot airflow under, over and around cabinets. When cabinets are installed into the data center, most of them are placed on leveler feet with a gap between the floor and the base of the cabinet. You can prevent air from passing under cabinets by installing bottom panels. 

To stop air from circulating above and around cabinets, adding aisle containment doors are beneficial. If needed, the whole aisle can be sealed with a roof to retain air within the aisle  or a vent to remove air from the space. Alternatively, cabinets equipped with vertical exhaust ducts could serve as a substitute for aisle containment. To maximize performance, the containment method  will provide a strong seal among parts to reduce air leakage.

Step 5: Adjust Cooling System 

Lastly, adding a containment with an excellent seal and maintaining a strong airflow management eliminates hot spots. This results in more consistent temperatures throughout the room and cabinet. After implementing the airflow and containment measures, data center managers can simulate and adjust the room’s temperature and airflow to improve cooling efficiency. As a rule of thumb, every 1-degree increase in supply temperature will reduce 2-4% energy consumption.

Moreover, CFD modeling shows the pressure differences between the room and contained spaces. Managers, engineers, and technicians will be able to adjust airflow and minimize the pressure differences while maintaining correct airflow. The decrease in airflow allows them to reduce the number of air handling units or operate units with variable-speed fans at lower speeds, which only lowers cooling cost.

RackSolutions Airflow and Cooling Solutions

In conclusion, improper air circulation can trap warm air in one area, mix with hot exhaust air, or prevent cool air from being directed toward your IT equipment. By improving efficiency through data centers, airflow management allows you to reduce energy consumption, maximize cooling capacity, and lower operating costs. If you need rack airflow accessories, we provide cooling solutions that will help you optimize the data center airflow management throughout your equipment, ensuring an organized operating environment. 

RackSolutions Airflow & Cooling Accessories
A Beginner's Guide to Data Center Airflow Management
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A Beginner's Guide to Data Center Airflow Management
Improving efficiency through data center airflow management is crucial for maximizing cooling capacity, reducing energy consumption, and lowering operating costs. By strategically managing the flow of air within the your data center, hot spots can be eliminated, preventing equipment overheating and potential downtime.
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