Active cabinet containment: The secret to efficient data center cooling

Active cabinet containment: The secret to efficient data center cooling

The key to efficient data center cooling is simpler than you might think.

Enterprise data centers house massive quantities of critical equipment and sensitive hardware that is constantly generating heat. This is especially true in large facilities with multiple high-density racks. For example, this has become the norm for many cloud data centers. If space can be economized, there's greater potential for scalability, which means more flexibility for customers – a top selling point for cloud services, according to Forbes. However, this also means more equipment is clustered together, which can easily result in higher temperatures and a greater chance of overheating servers.

Cooling components such as fans and air conditioners are therefore necessary to mitigate the risks of extreme heat in a facility. And while temperature maintenance is unavoidable collateral for a cloud vendor, inefficiencies in data center cooling infrastructure can result in heat escaping back into the cold aisle. And when your containment system hemorrhages hot air, your business hemorrhages money.

Good airflow is to data centers as strong lungs are to people

"In the data center oxygen is cool air, and carbon dioxide is hot air."

Think about how human beings breathe. They inhale oxygen, and they exhale carbon dioxide. In the data center, oxygen is cool air, and carbon dioxide is hot air. One must constantly be replenished as the other is expelled. This "breathing" process should be as efficient as possible so that optimal temperatures can be maintained within a facility at the lowest possible cost. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done.

According to TechTarget contributor Vali Sorell, having to constantly increase the output of the computer room air conditioning (CRAC) system is a common complaint among data center operators. Often, a lack of cool air isn't the source of these woes; the problem is that this air is missing its target. This is because as the conditioned air is released from tiles along the floor, it mixes with hot air already in the room, and the mixed air is ultimately used to cool servers. In other words, critical rack equipment is exposed to an inconsistent mix of cool and warm air all too often. 

Reliable cabinet cooling components and containment systems help address this by positioning the conditioned air to its proper place in the cold aisle. This allows the cool air to pass directly through equipment, as intended. However, if the hot air that comes out at the back of the rack is not contained and channeled directly to the return of the cooling system, it will filter back into the room. This forces the CRAC unit to work harder and less efficiently.  

Another possible fault in airflow management is that cooling fans are not responding to temperature changes quickly enough. How fast these fans spin will ultimately determine how much cool air passes through the cabinet row. Sometimes, rather than cranking up the AC, simply dialing up the fan speed is the answer.

Think of it as though you are running as fast as you can for as long as you can, and trying to sustain yourself on very small, infrequent breaths. Eventually, you'd pass out, not because there's not enough air where you are, but because you're not breathing often enough or hard enough. You have to increase your fan speed, so to speak. In the data center, if you're not replenishing the cool air supply in the cabinet, hot air won't rise, because it isn't being replaced. Much like excess carbon dioxide in your lungs, this isn't good for equipment, which will be at risk of overheating. 

Cranking up the AC isn't always the answer to cooling down the data center. Cranking up the AC isn't always the answer to cooling down the data center.

A balanced cooling strategy demands smart airflow management

To address all of these potential pitfalls, a cabinet cooling system must do two things in tandem: It must be able to adjust fan speed automatically based on the temperature of equipment, and it needs to contain hot air so that it does not end up back in the room. 

The Geist Cool ActiveAir containment system achieves this with pressure sensors that tell fans how fast or slow they should be spinning to maintain optimal conditions. This is vital for an enterprise data center, which is subject to frequent and unexpected workload shifts between servers. As these shifts occur, more or less heat may be generated in certain areas of a facility and cooling components must respond accordingly. Using smart fans is much more sensible. They consume less energy than turning up the AC would, which means they're more cost efficient, yet they still get the job done.

The second part of this process relies on chimneys with embedded sensors that reliably contain heat. This prevents hot air from cycling back into the room. Combined, these critical functions ensure that equipment does not overheat, and significantly cut back the amount of energy wasted on powering CRACs. 

As an added bonus, ActiveAir is as scalable as any facility needs it to be. Row-based cooling can easily be upgraded to rack-based cooling by simply adding more sensors and chimneys. To learn more about ActiveAir, contact Geist today