Everything you want to know about containment

Last Wednesday we hosted, Containment: Improve DC thermal conditions and maximize IT capacity, with our partners at Polargy Inc. Our discussion covered the what, where, when, and why of containment.  

We weren’t surprised to see that most of our viewers are either considering deploying containment in the next year or are unsure which approach would be appropriate in their data center As Cary described during the webinar; containment has become standard operating procedure in data centers today. Toptimize airflow, you must separate the hot and cold air which in turn allows you to reduce the volume of cold air required to cool the IT equipment.  Not only does this reduce cooling energy costs, but it improves cooling system energy efficiency as well.  We covered all the containment basics in our post last month, “Containment – is it worth the investment?” 

We received a lot of great questions, ranging from when to deploy containment to what solution is best. Today we’re sharing our answers to some of the top questions.

Is there any performance advantage of hot aisle containment over cold aisle containment?

In most cases, the geometry of the data center strongly influences or in some cases dictates the type of containment that can be used. There really is no performance difference between hot aisle or cold aisle containment. As we noted in the webinar, airflow management which includes containment is an “enabler” that allows you to make changes to improve thermal conditions and reduce cooling energy costs.

 To achieve maximum energy savings and vastly improve thermal conditions cooling operational changes such as temperature set point adjustment and supplied air volume are required.

You talked about “measuring success.” What quantitative results do you consider before and after a containment project?

There are a number of elements that can be used to measure success. Two of the most common are:

  1.  A measure of cooling energy reduction which requires metering of cooling units pre and post containment. As noted above, containment on its own will reduce cooling energy consumption however steps to change cooling system operation are how energy reduction will be maximized.
  2. Measuring thermal condition in the cold aisle is another step. Containment should remove any hotspots in the data center and provide a more consistent temperature at the rack inlets.

In projects that we undertake, we do full energy metering of the cooling units pre and post and measure IT loads pre and post to identify any changes, positive or negative. As part of our close-out process, we provide a detailed analysis showing several metrics including changes in cooling system operation and changes in airflow volumes and temperature set points.

 Two of the main KPI’s we offer are cooling effectiveness and cooling efficiency.

Cooling effectiveness is an indication of how many kW’s of cooling is required to cool a kW of heat. The second is cooling efficiency which is how many kW’s are required to generate one kW of cooling. Both these KPIs provide a clear picture as to how cooling operation has improved.

Do I really need containment if my rack density averages 5kW? Would there be sufficient payback?

The real question to be asked is “how much am I spending on excess cooling energy with rack heat loads in the 5kW range without containment?” You can certainly provide adequate cooling to meet the needs of 5 kW racks, but how much excess cooling and energy is being used?

Containment will enable you to reduce the amount of cooling being provided, increase temperature set points and allow increases in rack kW loads without adding more cooling.

To achieve a good payback the steps noted above must be taken to reduce energy costs which will show a payback of fewer than 3 years. The other major benefit of containment is that you can now increase rack densities into the 12 kW range without having to increase data center space or cooling capacity in most cases

As part of our Audit process, we provide you with a business case that identifies the potential energy savings and payback so you can make a go-no-go decision before incurring the cost of proceeding with containment installation.

Also as noted in the response to the question above, as part of our close-out process, we provide KPIs including cooling efficiency and cooling effectiveness which will clearly show how conditions have improved.


How do I prepare my data center before deploying containment? Will it disrupt day-to-day operations?

The actions to prepare for containment are all actions that should be taken, and in some cases may already be done in your data center, to align with industry best practices. As outlined in our webinar, actions to improve airflow management such as the installation of blanking panels in empty rack U spaces, openings between racks, and openings in the raised floor are some of the more basic operations. In most cases, as part of the SCTi turnkey solutions delivery, we do all of the above actions as part of the containment installation.

One key aspect that must be addressed prior to containment, and we can help with this, is to get the appropriate approvals related to fire code. In most cases, some modifications will be required, and this must be identified before the design of containment is finalized to ensure compliance.

None of the above actions will impact day to day operation.

My data center is a mix of rack rows and standalone racks – can containment still be done?

We have installed containment in several data centers with similar equipment layouts. Containment may consist of a combination of rigid and curtain containment; however, it is very achievable, and the result is highly effective.

How do I find out more?

Listen to our full discussion around containment solutions by watching the webinar.  

You can also visit our containment page to learn more about customized solutions.  

If you’re interested in deploying containment and would like to discuss how to maximize the benefits of your containment strategy or have any questions reach out to us at info@sct-inc.com 


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