Good airflow is vital to a healthy data center

Good airflow is vital to a healthy data center

Efficient cooling is vital to the health of data centers.

Data centers are essential to just about every industry from retail to healthcare. And with each industry, a unique set of concerns may dictate how data center managers handle the day-to-day maintenance of their facilities.

In health care specifically, data center operators need to be mindful of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). While there are not clear specifications regarding procedures within the facility, a problem in the data center that somehow inhibits health care organization's ability to access medical records would result in a HIPAA violation. Among the myriad potential sources of a data center disruption are poor or improper cooling practices that may result from bad airflow.

Just like people, healthy data centers need to breathe.

What are the risks?

This is arguably the most important question a data center manager can ask when it comes to avoiding both downtime and a HIPAA violation. According to data center specialist David Pollard, the key to compliance is knowing what the risks are in the data center. In many cases, one of the biggest hazards to server rooms and facilities that serve health care organizations is poor airflow.  

Data center managers may find themselves in the position of having to continually boost their cooling capacity in order to prevent equipment from overheating. While it's easy to shrug this off as a necessary evil, in actuality it's often a sign of bad airflow in the data center. Other signs that air may not be circulating efficiently may include an unusual number of hot and cold pockets, especially if the distribution of servers is fairly balanced among racks and cabinets. 

Poor airflow management could put your data center equipment at risk of running a fever. Poor airflow management could put your data center equipment at risk of running a fever.

What's causing poor airflow?

The goal of data center cooling is to let cold air pass through equipment, at which point heat is transferred into the air and, in theory, escapes through the ceiling. The only problem is that achieving this is harder than it may sound, especially in the dense server room environments of modern data centers. Traditional cold aisle/hot aisle cooling and containment layouts allow for too much mixing of hot and cold air or, in some cases, allow cold air to escape. This occurrence is called bypass airflow, and according to TechTarget contributor Vali Sorell, it's the biggest cause of poor airflow management.  

"There's simply too much at stake for temperature-induced downtime."

In a high density facility that serves health care organizations, this can lead to energy inefficiencies, or worse, it can increase the likelihood of critical equipment overheating. There's simply too much at stake – both in terms of compliance breaches resulting from downtime and the inability to properly treat patients due to inaccessible medical records – for temperature-induced downtime.  

The solution? It takes brains, not brawn

Maximizing cooling efficiency to guarantee suitable environmental conditions in even the most crammed storage rooms isn't about increasing cooling capacity. Rather, it's about making smarter use of your current cooling components by creating a streamlined airflow system. Data center managers can't do this just by rearranging cabinets and hoping for the best. They need an intelligent airflow system such as Geist Intelligent Dynamic Containment

For starters, with custom chimneys for each cabinet, hot air can easily escape without leaking back into the facility and mixing with cool air. By monitoring the cabinet pressure, the amount of air that escapes is optimized, and this is what allows for a truly efficient cooling system that can control equipment temperatures with extraordinary precision.

The end result is a high-density facility that never exceed or falls short of the desired environmental measurements. When it comes to health care in the treatment center and in the data center, getting things just right is the key to success.