The Rise of Aisle Containment Structures

Data center designers and manufacturers are struggling to keep pace with rapid changes in the industry. Constant upticks in demand for data storage and processing, fueled by an ever increasing usage of computers, smartphones, and tablets, are resulting in the need for fast expansion in data centers. One of the areas most affected by this is MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) infrastructure. Most data centers that were designed a decade ago do not have the MEP infrastructures to support today’s high energy costs, the rise of cloud computing, and aging equipment.

Data centers are now designed to not only accommodate current regulations and standards but also predicted capacity requirements, while simultaneously reducing operating costs by incorporating aisle containment structures. One solution offered by many experts in the field is the use of scalable or modular designs. The aisle containment structure is gaining popularity because it meets these goals by providing an infrastructure that is repeatable and rapidly deployable.

An aisle containment structure can be custom-designed for maximum efficiency based on the availability of existing cooling elements in a data center. It can be constructed as a hot aisle containment module when a ceiling return plenum is present, or it can be configured as a cold aisle if cooling is done through a raised floor, there is limited ceiling height, or when there is no ceiling plenum available.  

The rise of aisle containment structures has a direct correlation with increasing energy costs. As energy costs rise, data center operators are looking for more efficient solutions to keep data centers cool. Aisle containment structures aid in this fight by increasing cooling efficiencies, enabling companies to maintain optimum temperatures at a lower cost.

IT budgets are getting smaller, which has resulted in a growing need for MEP infrastructure designs that take into account future expansion requirements while not consuming existing budgetary funds. The structure provides a means to design a full-scale build for the data center that can accommodate expandable modules according to budget limitations.

The Aisle Containment Structure

The aisle containment structure is a prefabricated system that incorporates all of the components of aisle containment design into a freestanding unit. It is comprised of a base unit frame that is an aisle containment platform and is used for cabinet anchoring. The aisle containment system mounts to the base unit and can be deployed in hot or cold configurations. Modular units above the cabinets house busways and cable routing, eliminating the need for a data center’s ceiling system to handle those loads.

A structure can be configured as a hot aisle or a cold aisle containment system. In the hot aisle configuration, the hot air is contained between the cabinets and exhausted out of a ceiling plenum. The hot aisle containment system encloses an aisle to collect the equipment’s hot air exhaust. This allows the rest of the data center to become a large cold air return plenum. It prevents the mixing of hot and cold air, which is the key to efficiency, by allowing higher work environment temperatures.

In a cold aisle configuration, the cold air is contained between the cabinets while the hot air is exhausted into the room. The cold aisle containment system encloses the cold aisle. The rest of the data center then becomes a large hot air plenum. Similar to hot aisle containment, it prevents the mixing of hot and cold air, which is a main key to efficiency. The configuration in both cold and hot aisle containment structures is based on the available air management system for each data center. Experts in the field agree that containing and exhausting hot air is essential to having an efficient data center.

A Means to Reduce Costs

As data centers become more expensive to run and operate, operators are looking for any means to reduce efficiency costs.  Aisle containment systems make it easier to maintain optimum operating temperatures, which, in turn, results in more efficient use of cooling systems, leading to lower energy costs. These structures also have a defined footprint, enabling organizations to accurately calculate how much cooling is needed for the installed equipment.

As long as we see an increased demand for data storage and processing in the industry, there will always be the need to find ways to save money while trying to do more. Increased efficiency for a data center translates into cost savings, and aisle containment structures help increase that efficiency.