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Step 4: Environmental concerns

Here's Step 4 of the eight key steps you need to consider when building a data center or server room.

Servers generate a lot of heat and are sensitive to high temperatures and fluctuations in humidity. A stable environment can improve uptime and extend the life of your hardware. An ideal environmental control system should be modular, expandable and flexible.

    AIRFLOW CHECKLIST            
              DON'T use shelves in your              
                racks. Shelves trap heat              
                and restrict air flow.              
              DON'T use glass doors, which              
                can trap heat and reduce              
                air flow through the rack.              
                Use fully vented doors,              
                or remove the doors entirely.              
              DO use blanking panels to              
                close off open spaces in              
                racks. These open spaces              
                create traps for hot air within              
                the rack and reduce air flow.              
              DO perform your own tests              
                on fan trays and roof fans to              
                decide if they are worth the              
                expense. They are common,              
                but some critics say they              
                provide little benefit for the              
                electricity they use.              
              DO make sure your racks              
                are deep enough to allow air              
                flow around cables, which can              
                obstruct ventilation and cause              
              DO place racks in rows and              
                reverse the direction of how              
                alternate rows face. This              
                helps separate the hot              
                exhaust air from the intake              
                air. The front of a rack              
                should never be facing the              
                back of another rack.              
              DO space out high-capacity              
                racks, which can generate              
                tremendous amounts of heat              
                and increase power              

Air temperature is an important consideration. Your air conditioning capacity will depend on the size of your room, lighting, number of people working in the room, quantity of electrical equipment and the heat generated by that equipment. In short, you'll need to determine the total load power in watts generated by all of these devices in order to determine their thermal output.

Environmental engineering can determine cooling requirements based on these factors, as exact calculation methods are beyond the scope of this paper. If possible, build redundancy and overcapacity into the environmental systems to allow for failures, maintenance downtime and temporary capacity spikes.

Air flow in and around server racks is crucial, and you'll need to work with your environmental engineering department to work out the best solution in terms of air conditioning types, duct placement and ceiling vs. floor-mounted ventilation.

Be on the lookout for hotspots and stagnant air flow. Temperature and humidity sensors can be placed throughout a data center to monitor conditions, but there are several simple steps you can take to improve airflow.

Another important element to consider is the level of humidity. Low humidity levels increase the risk of static electricity, and high amounts of relative humidity can contribute to corrosion as well as lowering the heat removal capacity of your equipment. The relative humidity in a data center should generally be kept between 40-55 percent.

ASHRAE publishes specific guidelines for data centers and server rooms (


  Home: Introduction
  Step 1: Determine size requirements
  Step 2: Reserve a location
  Step 3: Power Requirements
  Step 4: Environmental concerns
  Step 5: Rack solutions and cable management
  Step 6: Flooring: choice of materials matter
  Step 7: Security
  Step 8: Finalize the layout


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