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Hot-aisle/cold-aisle containment takes hold

Data center power-saving methods, such as hot-aisle/cold-aisle containment, have taken hold in data center design, but other cutting-edge methods such as liquid cooling remain too risky, according to a recent survey.

Hot-cold aisle containment has quickly become a big factor in data center design, possibly because it can create significant energy savings, according to a recent survey.

For more on the recent Data Center Decisions survey:
Budgets flatten, clampdown on costs

Blade server popularity cools

Linux fans see opportunity in Windows 7 changeover
The survey also found that data center and IT managers are much more aware of their power consumption than they were just a year ago. Last year, 36% said they didn't know how much their data center power bill was. That number has decreased to 28% this year. Further, the number of people whose business unit pays the power bill jumped from 37% to 53%.

And power consumption continues to grow. Almost half said their power bills increased this year over last, with about one-fifth putting that increase at more than 10%.

Hot-cold aisle containment gains traction
Hot-cold aisle containment is the practice of sealing a data center's hot aisle and/or cold aisle to better control airflow and prevent the mixing of hot and cold air. Such mixing wastes cooling energy. Almost half the survey participants said they had either implemented hot-cold aisle containment or planned to do so this year.

we had to carefully balance air going in from air going out.
Tim Happychuk
IT directorQuebecor

Last year's survey didn't ask about the practice of hot-aisle and cold-aisle containment. Some companies fashion their own homegrown systems by installing thick strips of plastic – similar to those found in meat lockers – from the ceiling to the top of racks. Others buy custom-made systems from vendors such as Wright Line, Liebert and APC. For those survey respondents who have done containment, cold-aisle containment was the most popular (54%) followed by hot-aisle containment, and then ducted or plenum systems.

Canadian media company Quebecor uses both hot- and cold-aisle containment. Because its data center has only one row of racks, IT director Timothy Happychuk bisected the room to contain both aisles. Cool air from the outside is used to cool servers, and hot air exhausts out the back of the room, then piped into adjacent offices to warm them in the winter.

"Because of what we're doing in our data center environment, we had to carefully balance air going in from air going out," Happychuk said. "It's been working extremely well for us."

Dean Nelson, a data center director at eBay Inc., is also a proponent of hot-cold aisle containment. "Everybody is tuning right now for air, and they should be because their environments are air-cooled. They should make that as brutally efficient as possible," he said.

Data centers haven't warmed to liquid cooling
Many data centers pros hesitate to consider liquid cooling, a solution that could save them big bucks. Enthusiasm for that technology has decreased in the past year, however impossible it may seem. Respondents who said they would never use liquid cooling rose from 63% to 68% year over year, and fewer people are willing to even try it. Nelson said that's too bad.

"It's a phobia that doesn't have legs," he said. "The history is the IBM mainframes were liquid-cooled. We should be coming full circle here. This is just good engineering. It's just about controlling the water and having good design, such as isolation valves." Finally, survey participants indicated that APC continues to gain market share on Liebert on both power and cooling devices in the data center. APC's share for UPS systems increased from 59% to 64% this year, while its share for air conditioners jumped from 34% to 38%. Liebert's share dropped in both categories.

Between June and September of 2009, conducted the Data Center Decisions 2009 Purchasing Intentions Survey. Subscribers were contacted by email and invited to participate. For this survey, we had a total of 920 respondents. The respondents identify themselves as IT managers, IT administrators, data center facility managers and IT executives. Respondents were primarily U.S.-based (43%), but the survey also included participants from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. More than half of respondents' organizations employ more than 1,000 workers, and more than 25% of the companies have more than 10,000 employees. Thank you to everyone who participated in this survey. Follow this link to the 2008 data center purchasing intentions survey.

Back to survey overview.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. Also, check out our blogs: Data Center Facilities Pro, Mainframe Propeller Head, and Server Farming.

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