“This image of Polargy’s Cold Aisle Containment is from the brochure for Netrality’s new site in downtown Chicago. The site is at 717 South Wells and we were thrilled to expand our footprint in the Chicago area. This site uses Kyoto cooling system which requires containment to perform properly. Also, the project was a complete remodel of the room and we had to do some detailed work around the conduits and columns. If you want to take a tour of the site just contact us and we’ll connect you with their sales guy for the site”
I had the pleasure of meeting perhaps the industry’s only data center comic writer Diane Alber at the AFCOM Data Center World event last week. Diane is the creator and writer of the Kip and Gary Data Center comic and technology blog.
Diane is well qualified to make fun of data centers since by day she is a WESCO/CSC’s Global Account Manager for the Western Region. Combining her industry knowledge, art background, and sense of humor, she hits the nail on the head with her book What Happens In The DATA CENTER… available from Amazon.
And it’s Just in Time.
Last week the Northern California 7×24 Exchange held their Spring event covering the topic of Construction Best Practices. One clear theme that emerged was the need for Flexible, Phased Capacity as new data centers are built out. Several speakers and panelists addressed market trends in outsourcing that drive this need.
Ron Vokoun from JE Dunn Construction, explained several trends in outsourcing and new construction that are driving the need for flexible capacity.
- Small businesses are moving IT to co-lo and cloud providers.
- Medium businesses are moving IT to co-lo and wholesale providers.
- Most new construction is purpose built, Greenfield, and larger in scale, yet with larger shells, initial fit-outs are modest and subsequent fit-outs are delayed until occupancy is closer.
Sam Brown, VP of Engineering and Construction for Server Farm Realty echoed this phasing approach explaining that customers tell them, “We need 500Kw now and over five years we plan to ramp into 2MW.”
Polargy sees this emerging trend of “phasing” reflected in an increasing appetite for our Floor Mounted Infrastructure (FMI) among co-lo and wholesale providers.
Our FMI solution incorporates containment, cable and power trays, and lighting. It is essentially a “modular white space” solution deployed in response to actual demand for capacity. Using a phasing approach, after the shell and raised floor is built out, the remaining infrastructure of containment, power, cable, and lighting can be deployed as needed. This is less constraining to the layout, which may not be fully understood until actual customers come in and their requirements clarify.
Perhaps most importantly for the industry, this “just in time” approach to data center infrastructure goes a long way toward smoothing bumps in the business model many insiders are anxious about, as I discussed in my previous post about maturation and rationalization. The ability to easily defer and fine-tune capital investment until actual demands are understood will be a competitive advantage for early adopters of phasing.
Because Polargy has deep expertise and experience with precision design and rapid deployment, we anticipate strong demand for our FMI solution that enables easy Phasing, as this new fit-out trend grows into an industry Best Practice.
- Set expectations based on the specifics the individual country, LatAm is not homogeneous. For example, Chile is strict on paperwork, Guatemala is more relaxed.
- Clarify delivery terms. Delivery Duty Paid (DDP) needs to clearly define the shipment hand-off. The difference between the “construction site” and the “staging/off site receiving area” can be weeks—and kilometers—apart.
- Value Added Tax (VAT) is complex, get professional help. In some cases it can be recovered, in most cases it needs to be paid in advance.
- Business practices vary by country, there’s a large gray area of local expeditors, prepaid contractor fees, etc. Know that going in, do the necessary research.
- Duties vary widely with Brazil having the steepest ones. Plan for these in your project costing and make sure duty codes for your products are correct.
PolarPlex SPS is a ceiling-suspended aisle containment solution for data centers. It’s designed with an innovative quick-connect channel system that holds SPS panels perfectly straight and secure while also allowing quick and easy removal.
Lightweight ceiling-suspended SPS panels offer functional and aesthetic advantages over vinyl curtains yet are competitively priced. PolarPlex SPS provides better thermal sealing, simpler installation, and a cleaner appearance than curtain containment.
For overhead applications, PolarPlex SPS is rack-independent, supported by the ceiling rather than server cabinets. This design enables cabinets to be moved in and out without affecting the containment system. In containment environments built with our Overhead Prefabricated System or Floor Mounted Infrastructure, full-length SPS panels can fill gaps between racks or completely isolate the aisle during commissioning.
CEO of Polargy, Cary Frame, reports: “PolarPlex SPS has filled a product gap in data center containment for at least the past year and we’re delighted to receive patent approval for this invention. The novel SPS channel design means these panels hang straight and strong for optimal airflow management, but can be installed and removed quickly and easily without tools. PolarPlex SPS has raised the bar on hot- and cold-aisle containment solutions.”
We also recently announced a major update to its website www.polargy.com which now features CAD, BIM, and SketchUp design files for Polargy containment solutions. These freely downloadable design files help data center architects and engineers quickly evaluate and spec our containment solutions for new construction and retrofit projects.
See further details about SPS here.
Who owns containment? No one. This is the problem.
Hot- and cold-aisle containment is a data center best practice experiencing hyper-growth in adoption because of its large impact on energy efficiency and operating cost savings. Interestingly, there is still no clear ownership of containment within the enterprise, among industry trades or between manufacturers.
Polargy works on the leading edge of growth in data center containment by focusing on product innovation and enabling fast and precise implementation. We offer this perspective on containment ownership based on our observations over more than five years in the containment market.
In our experience, what drives ambiguity around containment ownership is that it exists along the boundaries of job scope for multiple traditional players within data center whitespace. It also represents a more customized solution set than much of the industry is accustomed to.
On the user side, containment physically touches data center server racks, which are the responsibility of IT or IT Ops management within the enterprise, but it significantly impacts air conditioning performance, which is typically under the purview of facilities management. In addition, some enterprises have corporate energy managers who want or need to participate in the discussion. On the supply side, no single manufacturer type has claimed the category and no trade (mechanical, electrical, etc.) has taken a lead role. Because no one has stepped into full ownership of containment, up to five separate groups inside and outside the data center currently get involved.
Within the enterprise, Polargy has seen retrofit projects managed by data center operations as often as by facilities. However, we rarely see IT responsible for driving decisions, and though we find energy managers at the table, they almost never drive a project, but rather consult on ROI. When it comes to commissioning containment, all three constituents have strong stakes in the upgraded operating environment.
As part of Polargy’s standard engagement process we request that all three groups participate in outcome targets and commissioning planning. The key question these groups must agree on is what the new cold aisle temperature will be. Typically, IT people seek cold aisle temperatures in the mid-60s, data center operations people tend to favor temperatures in the low-70s, and facilities people prefer to run near the ASHRAE limit of 80.7°F. Besides these three operational groups, trades and manufacturers also suffer containment ownership ambiguity.
As a lead containment contactor, Polargy routinely trains and subcontracts a variety of firms from other trades to install containment. Polargy turnkey solutions have been installed by low voltage, flooring, interior, mechanical, and electrical contractors. Scholes Electrical and Mechanical in New Jersey has both electrical and low voltage groups, and Polargy has done projects with both groups for the same client. No particular contractor type has emerged as the one best suited to initiate and own containment projects.
“At CRB, we’ve seen a growing number of owners procure containment from containment companies like Polargy, but also from rack makers like Chatsworth,” reports Daniel Bodenski, Director of Mission Critical Services at CRB. “Likewise, in our mission critical project work, we’ve seen a variety of subcontractors install containment, including electricians, flooring contractors, and again the containment vendors themselves. No single group appears to be claiming full ownership yet.”
To the contrary, we’ve even seen contractors avoiding containment opportunities. In Chicago, the engineering design house Environmental Systems Design attempted to bid a containment project to four low voltage contractors, but none of them responded because they didn’t know what they were getting into. In Phoenix, a prominent mechanical contractor walked away from containment opportunities because they felt containment wasn’t “in their wheelhouse.”
The case of mechanical contractors is particularly curious because three things should give the mechanical trade an advantage in containment:
- They’re already responsible for air flow supply in the data center.
- They’re already doing routine maintenance on CRAC units, so they have regular access to customers they could sell containment to.
- They already have the mechanical skills necessary to install containment.
Yet, we haven’t even seen mechanical get traction with containment. Lack of clear ownership for containment means mechanical and other trades lose out on significant opportunities due to nothing more than lack of familiarity.
Among manufacturers, containment is dispersed among different types, from pure-play companies solely focused on containment to resellers and divisions within large diversified corporations. Containment is largely custom-designed to unique site conditions and varying rack sizes and layouts. This is why pure-play companies like Polargy with deep knowledge of requirements for both retrofit and new construction currently enjoy an advantage. As rack, low voltage and flooring manufacturers encroach on the containment market they are being forced to overcome the customization barrier.
Lack of clear and consistent ownership for containment among facilities management, trades, and manufacturers is clearly hamstringing containment-related decisions and implementations today. Containment is moving up the adoption curve, but the market will continue to see a variety of players at the table until market norms are established.
While these different constituent groups remain involved in containment to some degree, communication about business outcomes and implementation is paramount. Until there is better clarity vis-a-vis ownership of containment, decision authority will remain dispersed and responsibility will be shared, necessitating communication and coordination among more parties than necessary.
According to Rich Garrison, Senior Principal at Alfa Tech, “Because containment is intended to control airflow by separating hot and cold air, containment solutions are a fundamental part of the Mechanical solution. On the other hand, because it can be considered a wall or partition and often has an aesthetic component, the Architects claim ownership. To further complicate it, containment solutions are often positioned as accessories to rack solutions and can be considered part of the IT infrastructure. Ownership ambiguity extends to the trades as well. We see General Contractors, Mechanical, Electrical and Low Voltage sub-contractors all doing containment installation.”
In the current environment, while ownership remains ambiguous, Polargy sees MEP consulting engineers as the ideal containment owner from a design perspective due to their responsibility for air flow controls and monitoring. On the implementation side, pure-play containment manufacturers like Polargy, who double as containment contractors, will remain best suited to manage installation. Their advantage comes from superior product knowledge and deep and varied experience as the “go-to guy”during the formative period of the containment industry.
We anticipate this will remain the situation in this market for the next 2-4 years while data center containment ownership gets sorted out. Clear ownership of containment will facilitate even faster adoption of cutting edge containment solutions and lead to even greater data center efficiency.
Originally published on Data Center Knowledge.
Safely Transitioning the Data Center to a new Operating Environment
The Misunderstood Risk
Adding hot or cold aisle containment to an existing site offers the promise of energy savings, rescued capacity, and elimination of hot spots. Containment almost always offers strong return on investment with seemingly little downside risk. The problem is that “little downside” can be significantly misunderstood due to a common view of aisle containment as “put up some walls and turn off some CRACs.”
This misguided view of containment leads operators to plow ahead with airflow isolation projects, yet with no clear transition path to the new operating environment. These narrowly-defined containment projects result in money left on the table and huge risks associated with crippled post-install airflow.
To mitigate these risks and assure a successful outcome, aisle containment retrofits should be viewed more broadly as a Monitor, Contain, and Control project driven by a proper Commissioning Plan. This broader view of containment is based on three important factors:
- Data center airflow is dynamic, not static.
- Airflow must be managed continuously, not just once or even sporadically.
- Post-install, the cooling plant operates closer to its limits, which demands better monitoring.
Considering these factors, it’s easy to see that a containment project involves more than just putting up walls and turning off CRACs. It requires discussion and planning around monitoring, balancing airflow, controlling cooling and setting parameters and thresholds to which the site will be managed. All of these specifications and parameters are captured in a proper Containment Commissioning Plan.
Increasing computing densities, increasing power costs, and demand for ever more capacity from existing infrastructure are key drivers of containment adoption. While these drivers apply to both new construction and containment retrofits, our focus here is on the latter.
The typical scenario in containment retrofits is cold aisle airflow management with roof panels and a raised floor site with perimeter cooling. Generally, and depending on the fire marshal, drop-away roof panels are more popular because they can be used under sprinklers with no special accommodations. This option is not available for vertical panels more often associated with hot aisle containment. Also in legacy sites, there are often overhead obstructions that make vertical panels untenable, which leaves the roof as the only practical option.
With this roof-based trend in retrofits, cold aisle containment essentially creates little rooms within the data center, each of which requires a balance of supply and demand airflow. These separate balanced airflows make the project more challenging than merely installing doors and panels. Furthermore, the constantly changing airflow supply and demand, combined with operating the cooling plant closer to minimum required capacity, forces a careful approach to the airflow equation. These factors make a suitable Containment Commissioning Plan critical to risk management and overall project success.
A proper Retrofit Containment Commissioning Plan aligns stakeholders to cooling changes and project goals, and outlines various monitoring, balancing, and set-point adjustments steps. More simply, a proper Containment Commissioning Plan answers two key operating questions:
- What is our new cold aisle operating temperature?
- How will we know when we get there?
Persuading the Facilities, Operations and IT groups within the enterprise to agree on the new cold aisle temperature is typically the hardest part. Facilities advocates for ASHRAE’s upper limit recommendation of 80.6°F (27°C), Operations is more comfortable with cold aisle temperatures around the mid- to upper-70s and IT prefers even cooler targets, often in the low 70s.
The second question is simply answered by “monitoring,” though more often than not, legacy sites have little or no temperature monitoring at the rack level. Once stakeholders agree on an answer to the first question it becomes obvious there is a monitoring gap, so planning typically turns to closing that gap. At this point in the process, people working through this planning phase often experience an “ah-ha” moment, realizing that the project scope is broader than their narrow, initial view.
What’s in the Plan?
After answering the two key questions (above), the rest of the Commissioning Plan is fairly straightforward. Again, we assume the project is cold aisle containment with a roof. The Plan outline that follows may be modified for other containment topologies.
- Determine maximum cold aisle temperature threshold
- Establish a monitoring plan
- Conduct an initial airflow balancing
- Determine and set a schedule for turning off CRAC/CRAHs
- Determine and set a schedule for raising set points
- Rebalance and continue adjustments until limits are reached
Temperature threshold and monitoring
Temperature threshold is a standard that drives all subsequent commissioning activities, including monitoring, which assures thermal safety through the project. To highlight the importance of monitoring, understand that at the start of a project a site often does have cold aisles out of balance, with one feeding another. Without containment, this common overfed/starving situation goes unnoticed, but after installing containment, underfed aisles immediately starve.
Since most legacy sites lack rack-level monitoring, a decision must be taken to invest in a monitoring/DCIM system, such as an automated, wireless mesh network. Short of that, monitoring may be relegated to a form of a manual ‘Sneaker Net’ process with temperature strips and/or laser temperature guns. A manual approach can work and many projects use it. Now at this point, an operator could also consider under-floor or differential air pressure, but we find that most retrofit projects lack the appetite for this step.
The objective of initial balancing is to eliminate gross imbalances prior to the adjustment phase. The current cooling lineup is maintained as floor tiles are juggled to achieve a common inlet temperature. That initial temperature target is loosely set by sampling the room to determine the current average inlet temperature at the front of the rack. A stock of some solid 25% and 60% perforated floor tiles will be needed for this and subsequent phases. It is common for a site to have too many perforated tiles installed.
CRAC/CRAHs and Set Points
The target number of CRACs to be turned off is usually set during the analysis phase. The Plan should identify specific CRACs, as well as a sequence and schedule for turning them off. The schedule simply spaces out shutdowns so that the room has enough time to stabilize, which could require as little as a few hours to as much as a couple days. Importantly, monitoring and rebalancing occurs during the time between shutting down CRAC units.
New set point targets are a function of the CRAC controls. Most legacy sites are controlling by Return Air Temperature (RAT), and a typical scenario is RAT set to 75°F. Clearly, if the new cold aisle temperature target is 78°F then RAT must be elevated well into the 90’s. New high temperature alarm set points must be set as well. The process of raising the RAT mirrors the process of turning off CRAC units. A proper Containment Commissioning Plan includes a schedule for gradually raising set points, allowing adequate time for the environment to stabilize. The Commissioning Plan should include multiple cycles of adjustment, monitoring and rebalancing.
Adjustment Process/Dynamic Airflow
As new containment is installed, monitoring assures that aisle starvation does not result. After containment is installed, the shutting down of CRACs, the set point increases and the rebalancing steps are taken. The Commissioning Plan is followed until the new target cold aisle temperature threshold is reached and is stable. A likely outcome is that the threshold will be reached for some zones while other areas will remain cooler than the target. At this point, the containment commissioning project is complete, though monitoring should be sustained, on the expectation that airflow supply-demand balance will change over time, necessitating additional adjustments.
The Containment Commissioning Plan outlined here does not address automation of monitoring and control functions, which we have left as a manual process. Short of deploying a full-fledged automated monitor and control system, active fan tiles are an option for achieving partial automation without the cost and complexity of procuring and integrating a full-fledged system. Fan tiles can help with localized balancing, which is especially important in the cold aisle containment scenario typical of retrofits. Fan tiles perform a local monitor and control function by adjusting fan speed to increase or decrease airflow into the aisle as temperature rises or falls. The fan tile option should be considered during initial discussion and planning of monitoring.
A proper Commissioning Plan for new aisle containment assures a seamless transition to the new operating environment and a successful outcome from both the financial and operational risk management perspectives. Approaching a new aisle containment project with a holistic view that includes monitoring and controls will help align stakeholders and facilitate a Plan that adequately addresses thermal safety. Lastly, any new implementation of airflow containment creates a new cooling environment that requires ongoing monitoring and continuous adjustment. The implementation of a well-thought out Plan will rise to the challenges of refining such a changing environment.
Originally published on Thermal News.
I visited a banking customer in Manhattan last month and finally had the opportunity to revisit an installation Polargy had completed several years back. The bank had discovered too many hot spots in their data center and looked to Polargy for a solution. Their problems were caused by the room’s space limitations of a short ceiling and a cable cluttered 12” raised floor. As densities grew, so did their hot spots.
After assessing the available space and airflow patterns, Polargy installed PolarPlex TM Drop-Away Panels for cold aisle containment and a strip curtain door to close off the end of the aisle. The project was a success in that it solved the bank’s hot spot problems: intake air temperature dropped from 90°F to 70°F.
Al Hemlke, of JEM Tech, is pictured above in the cold aisle of the data center. Al is a well-known, respected industry veteran who is deeply familiar with the NY/NJ market and leads our relationship with this customer. The PolarPlex Drop-Away Panels are situated just above him and the strip curtain door can be seen at the far end of the aisle behind him. Generally, we avoid strip curtains because the curtains can sometimes dance due to airflow characteristics at the end of aisles. However in this case, the airflow was not strong enough to create a problem.
Because of space limitations in Manhattan, many data centers have relocated outside the city proper, to surrounding communities in New Jersey, other New York neighborhoods, or into Connecticut. Confined spaces can lead to the types of density problems our banking customer experienced. However, as they discovered and I was able to see in action, sometimes all it takes to solve the problem is a reevaluation of containment and airflow solutions. High density issues can still be addressed even while working in a limited amount of space.
Containment has been around for years, but the mainstream adoption of containment is just now happening. In terms of the Technology Adoption Curve, the market has clearly moved beyond the initial “Innovator” phase and is well into the “Early Adopter” phase, perhaps even now bordering on the “Early Majority” phase.
We have seen innovators and technology enthusiasts like NetApp, Facebook, Cadence Design Systems, and Pixar Animation deploy containment well over six years ago. Then, we have seen that second phase of visionaries looking to get ahead of their competition. This group would include Verizon, Barclays, Equinix, Digital Realty and Kaiser Permanente who all have adopted containment to some degree over the past several years.
Today, we are seeing more and more architects and engineering firms design containment into their data centers, and we are seeing more pragmatic companies start to consider containment. This is in parallel with continued pressures of rising density and power costs, the original catalysts for containment. What we can conclude is that the bulk of the containment market is still untapped and that the volume of containment work will continue to increase over the next few years as the Early and late Majorities go through their adoption.