Data centres: simple ways to optimise your white space

There’s a new space race underway in the country’s data centres. Here’s how to win it.

Space is a luxury that few can afford. For data centre owners, it’s always cheaper and easier to build a compact facility than a large one. But it’s also easier to operate, maintain and expand a data centre if there’s enough space to do so.

Tension over space is nothing new in IT infrastructure, but right now, operators are feeling particularly squeezed. That’s due to the need to accommodate more equipment of multiple different types.

There's a new space race underway in the country's data centres. Here's how to win it.

Space in a data centre is generally divided into two areas, named after the colouring conventions on architectural plans.

  • White Space is the area in a data centre where the servers, storage systems, network switches and other IT equipment are located. It’s sometimes known as the “raised floor space” because the floor is elevated to accommodate under-floor cooling and cabling systems.
  • Grey Space is the area in a data centre that houses the supporting infrastructure for the IT equipment This includes power distribution units (PDUs), uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), generators, cooling equipment (like chillers, air handlers, and air conditioning units), and other mechanical and electrical equipment.
The big squeeze

Demand for both types of space tends to rise in parallel. As data centres seek to offer more sophisticated services to more customers, they need more processing power, more storage, and more network bandwidth, boosting demand for white space. And all that additional equipment needs to be powered, cooled, and protected – ramping up pressure on the grey space within the centre.

The need to reduce the environmental footprint of data centres is placing extra demands on space too. Clean, but bulky data centre equipment includes cooling systems that use air rather than water as the primary heat transfer fluid, and backup generators with combined cooling and power (CCP) capabilities.

Getting white space right

Creating data centres that do more with less room, less water and less energy is a complex challenge, and optimising the white space within a facility is a key part of the solution. That can be done in various ways:

First, companies can try to reduce the number of servers and storage devices they need. That can be done through the installation of a more powerful or higher capacity equipment, and by using virtualisation techniques to share loads efficiently between devices.

Second, they can optimise the layout of racks and cabinets. One common approach is the use of hot aisle/cold aisle layouts in which servers are mounted in alternating rows with cold air intakes facing one way and hot exhausts the other. The aisles are separated with screens that prevent the mixing of hot and cold air, thus maximising cooling efficiency. Better use of vertical space can also transform the capacity of a data centre, for example by using taller racks that accommodate more devices in the same floor space.

Third, companies can optimise the detail of their installations. Efficient cable management allows equipment to be installed closer together, improves the flow of cooling air and simplifies maintenance, for example. Air guides integrated into racks and cabinets can boost cooling efficiency while consuming very little space.

Finally, since the demands placed on any data centre will change over time, companies need to ensure that they are continually optimising their use of white space. Good practices include regular audits of equipment and loads and robust planning processes to forecast and prepare for future needs. Modular rack systems can make it quicker and less disruptive to make changes to a facility, and modern data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) software can provide management teams with real time data and insights to make timely changes and upgrades.

With more than four decades of experience in the design and manufacture of racks, cabinets, and enclosures, Rainford is the ideal partner to help you make the most of every square metre of data centre space. Our range of standard, modular and fully customised solutions is always designed with the critical details in mind.

Whether it’s our 2.6m tall, 60U rack that offers 43% more server space in a standard footprint, custom cold aisle containment systems or factory pre-wiring to accelerate installation, we understand the details that make all the difference in data centre operations.

Get in touch and see how we can maximise your data centre operation

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