OK, I’ll admit it. And I’m quite sure many of you out there have had exactly the same thoughts I once did, so don’t go rolling your eyes at me. When my first son was born, I looked into his squinting eyes and thought to myself, “This little boy of mine may one day grow up to be a brain surgeon, or maybe an astronaut, a champion bass fisherman, or perhaps, God-willing, the most successful raised-access-computer-flooring salesperson of all time.” Hey, I have my dreams and you have yours.
Well, for all you new fathers and mothers, these dreams may still come true for your little one—except, that is, the raised-floor-salesperson bit. You see, by the time little Billy or Susie is ready to start a career, I predict that data centers will no longer be using raised floors at all, and thus, like the buggy whip, the 8-track tape, and Dittos pants (they were a 1970’s thing, and so was I), raised flooring will be extinct. Why?
It’s a matter of physics, my friends.
Let me ask you this: in most data centers, what is the raised floor for anyway? Okay, yes, I will agree that in some cases, it’s used to hide the mess often left behind by sloppy cable installers or poor housekeeping on the part of an IT operations or facilities teams. But more often than not, raised floors are used for cold air distribution. That is, servers in a data center excrete tons of heat, and they don’t like heat because it causes their chips to fail faster than they should. So in order to keep those servers happy, they need to be fed lots of cold air.
Traditionally, data center designers put a bunch of CRAC (no, not that kind of crack, these are Computer Room Air Conditioners) units in, or adjacent to, a data center. These units then pump a bunch of cold air under the floor, where is swirls around looking for perforated tiles through which that cold air will rise and then be drawn into a rack or cabinet to keep the servers living in such places cool and comfy.
But wait a second: Did your eyeballs see what my fingers just typed? For this whole gig to work, the cold air needs to rise through a perforated tile. Still didn’t catch it? OK, read closely: The cold air needs to rise.
Get it now? That’s the physics part.
For those of you who were paying attention in seventh grade science class, you may recall cold air doesn’t want to rise. It wants to fall. So how do we make cold air rise through data center flooring? We need to use of bunch of high powered fans to build up a lot of pressure and, like Walmart shoppers on Black Friday, we use force. Now follow me closely on this: Those fans use electricity, and electricity doesn’t grow on trees you know, it comes from power plants, and power plants have huge carbon footprints, and carbon is destroying the planet. (Side note: I was at the recent Green Build Conference in San Francisco and learned all about this little circle of death.)
So, instead of forcing cold air to do what it doesn’t want to do, forward-looking data center designers and engineers these days nix raised flooring altogether. Instead, they distribute conditioned air overhead, letting it simply dump down like a “cold air waterfall” in the cold aisles, and then use chimneys (or some other form of heat-capturing concept) to take the heated air from the hot aisles back to be conditioned, or ejected from the building without conditioning it at all.
I was in a massive data center in Las Vegas recently where they applied this exact design concept. Believe it or not, even in Las Vegas, 70 percent of the time, the landlords were able to keep their data center cool simply by drawing in outside air, running it through filters, dumping it down the cold aisles, and then letting the heated air go back outside.
Efficient? Physics says so—and so does this data center operator’s electric bill.
So there you have it, and you saw it here first. Raised flooring in data centers is on its way out. And if that hurts you or your family personally, I am sorry about that. But it’s time to move on, and its best you knew about this sooner than later, while you can still do something about it.
But for all you new parents out there looking into your newborn’s eyes and imagining what may be in store for them one day, cross raised-floor-salesperson-of-the-year off your list. Maybe you could replace it with the Hostess Twinkie-Eating Contest Winner.
Or maybe not.
Randy Thompson is the managing director within Cushman & Wakefield’s corporate occupier and investor services group. Contact him at email@example.com.