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Addressing data center issues and irritants: Advisory Board roundtable

Our advisory board members discuss their biggest data center issues and irks — and ways to solve them — in this roundtable discussion.

From entry-level systems administrators to noted facilities experts, everyone has data center issues or, at the very least, a pet peeve or two with how a facility looks or is operated. Many of these problems are self-inflicted wounds that could be avoided given a modicum of effort. Our advisory board members have weighed in on what ticks them off and how to fix it. What would you change in the data center if you had your druthers? Let us know by dropping a note to Site Editor Tom Walat.

Bill Bradford, senior systems administrator,
My single biggest pet peeve about data center operations is the lack of standardization in data center construction. Everybody does things differently. I've worked at various companies that had a raised-floor data center or computer facility, and each one had different in-house standards and methods for things like cabling, rackmounting, maintenance downtime, etc. — some of which aren't even documented.

One way to standardize data center procedures is for IT administrators to read books like The Practice of System and Network Administration, a great resource and guide. If a company has more than a couple racks of machines, it needs to implement documented, enforced standards and procedures for physical infrastructure. Admins can look at how the phone company does things for ideas; many of the Bellcore standards are available online.

Robert McFarlane, data center design expert, Shen Milsom Wilke Inc.
My pet peeves all fall under the general heading of ignoring the basics of cooling effectiveness and energy efficiency. Volumes have been written by data center experts on the subjects of cooling and energy, but consultants still walk into data center after data center and see open rack spaces; low and unequal temperature settings on air conditioners; mountains of old, unused cable under raised floors that block air flow; and unsealed raised-floor openings. All of these have easy fixes. We refer to these as "low-hanging fruit" or things you can easily correct that will make big improvements.

There is simply no excuse for open rack spaces. Snap-in blanking panels and sheets of filler material that also snap into cabinets make it easy to fill every unused rack space and stop wasted bypass air and hot air recirculation. Once you fix that, you'll find no reason to run air conditioners too cold or at different temperatures. Get more cooling capacity with higher return air temperatures — 80 degrees Fahrenheit instead of the common 72 degrees or lower. Reduce humidity to 45% instead of 50% and set all air conditioners to the same temperature to maximize cooling effectiveness.

The masses of old cable under the floor is the easiest to fix: Just get rid of unneeded cable! The biggest advantage of cable cleanout is increased airflow, though if the holes cut in your raised floor have leaks that may not be the end of your airflow problems.

We have cut holes in raised floors for years to accommodate power cords, cables and pipes. But what passes through those holes rarely takes up the full opening. The rest just leaks cool air that is expensive to produce and is probably needed to cool the equipment.

When things are moved, the holes are often left open or the cut tiles are not replaced with uncut tiles. I’ve even seen entire tiles left out of the floor. Replacing cut tiles with solid tiles is just a matter of realizing the huge amount of air waste and closing the openings.  But for where cable or pipes pass through, there are several air seals on the market in the form of brush strips, fire-rated neoprene gland seals and soft pillows that mold themselves around the cable. All of these seals can be installed in existing facilities where the holes already have things going through them, or in new data centers, ready to air-seal whatever may need to go through.


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