There’s no question that cold aisle / hot aisle concept of data center setup is here to stay. But data centers are facing new cooling challenges in the face of accelerating energy consumption rates and rising energy costs. One of the biggest challenges is ensuring that existing cooling systems can keep up with the demands of ongoing technology upgrades and client needs.

That’s why most data centers are turning to aisle containment to keep their facilities and cooling infrastructures up and running, as well as keep up with high-density rack loads. The good news is that aisle containment solutions can significantly enhance the efficacy and predictability of traditional cooling systems in both new and legacy data centers. However, there are plenty of prerequisites and considerations to keep in mind before implementing an aisle containment strategy.

For starters, which aisle containment is a good fit for your data center – hot-aisle or cold-aisle containment? Which aisle containment walls, doors, or ceilings will do a bang-up job in your data center facility?

Yes, aisle containment has proven to be quite effective when it comes to supporting higher capacity racks, but implementing it can be a big issue for most data centers. That’s why we have put together this article. We shall cover tips, considerations, and strategies customers can leverage when implementing data center aisle containment.

containment strips attached to aisle containment wall

First Things First: Why Do You Need Data Center Aisle Containment?

In the era of soaring energy costs, data centers are always looking for ways to boost efficiency and cut operating costs. In fact, it is estimated that data centers consume more than one percent of electricity in the US. What’s more, cooling IT equipment accounts for 40 percent of total data center energy costs, as well as 10 percent of capital costs.

That’s where aisle containment comes into play. It helps data centers cut energy costs by a margin of 10-40 percent. More importantly, aisle containment enables IT firms to effectively cool high-density systems such as blade servers. But that isn’t all there is to it..

How does aisle containment work? It all boils down to airflow management, a crucial factor to effectively cooling data centers. Both types of aisle containment facilitate cooling by restricting re-circulation and mixing of cold and hot air. This way, the hot air is eliminated or ejected outside, while the cold is directed towards the servers. In other words, this system improves the efficacy of data centers by sprucing up heat dissipation.

Making the Right Choice: Cold Aisle vs. Hot Aisle Containment

While both hot aisle containment and cold aisle containment promise to minimize the mixing of hot and cold air, there are fundamental differences in the way they work and implemented. The idea behind the two is still the same: separate the airflow path of the exhaust air from cold (conditioned) air to reduce PUE, operating costs, and increase cooling capacity to support higher density rack loads.

Hot Aisle Containment

Hot aisle containment is what it sounds like – containment walls or panel walls are erected around the hot aisle of the data center. It has become the go-to option, especially for new data centers – and with good reasons.

The Benefits of Hot Aisle Containment

  • • It essentially turns the larger, open area of the data facility into a fully-fledged cold environment. This can come in handy when it comes to reducing overall cooling costs.
  • • It is often easy to implement, particularly if you want to achieve maximum efficiency.
  • • It’s a great option for stand-alone IT equipment and network racks that have to reside outside the containment area (which here is a cold environment)
  • • It’s an excellent choice for any slab environment
  • • In case of power outage or generator failure, this configuration creates more “cold sinks” on the surface area.
  • • Standard grid fire suppression systems can be fitted around the containment, and still, meet data center safety & fire code.

The Downside of Hot Aisle Containment

  • • Hot conditions in the containment area can create uneasy conditions for IT technicians working on the equipment
  • • It’s usually more expensive

Cold Aisle Containment

As you might have already inferred, the cold aisle is contained in this configuration. The containment walls are built around the cold aisle leaving the larger, open area to be a hot environment. As such, this setup comes with its fair share of benefits and challenges.

The Benefits of Cold Aisle Containment

  • • Usually more cost-effective
  • • It’s typically easier to implement, with little or no changes in the data center architecture.
  • • It’s a perfect containment solution for retrofitting existing data centers.
  • • Only needs containment walls over the roof of the aisle, and doors at both ends
  • • It doesn’t have to be on a raised flow

The Downsides of Cold Aisle Containment

  • • Reduction of bypass airflow and higher supply temp can result in high return air temps
  • • Any leakage from the raised floor can greatly reduce the efficacy of the cooling system
  • • Might require additional fire suppression units

Key Tips/Strategies for Implementing Aisle Containment

(1) Assess your Rack Profile and Orientation

The current rack profile, symmetry, and orientation will make a huge difference as you implement your containment strategy. For instance, if your data center is heterogeneous with racks of varying heights, widths, and depths, then you will have to implement a highly customized aisle containment.

(2) Consider Peripheral Containment Costs

Besides the costs of the actual aisle containment, you will have to foot a few other bills, including:

  • • Fire protection measures
  • • Costs for implementing a system for real-time data collection
  • • Installing centralized CRAC unit controls for existing data centers
  • • The costs of sealing raised floor openings and installing blanking panel walls. These will work in tandem with aisle walls to deliver better cooling efficiency.

containment panel walls set up in a data center room

(3) Consider Airflow Patterns

This is particularly crucial if there’s a raised flow. Where’s the air handler in relation to the IT equipment?

(4) Evaluate your Rack Loads

The peak rack load densities will help determine nearly every aspect of the aisle containment, including the type and size of containment panel walls.

Any questions or concerns, or if you’d like to learn more about a solution for your data center, contact us at Cool Shield today.