The Raised Floor Perspective- Blanking

I can hear my mother telling me this like it was yesterday, “It’s the little things that make a big difference.”  So often do we get caught up in the big picture that this can be all but forgotten. As I walk around the raised floor I am reminded of this by the sight of one and two open U spaces appearing sporadically throughout the center. The saying, “It’s the little things,” could not be more true for this scenario. Considered best practice throughout the data center industry, blanking, more often than not becomes an afterthought at best. Open spaces left within racks allow the hot isle air to recirculate to the cold isle leading to a number of problems from placing operating equipment at risk of overheating to the added energy costs. Now rack blanking and the use of various types of blanking panels is nothing new to the personnel that work at a data center. To get the most out of this “little thing that makes a big difference” though, a new approach or deliberate effort, to blanking could go a long way.   

Approach 1: The pre-blanked rack.

Pre-blanking racks are a great way to get every U-space filled in. A large obstacle with blanking racks is working around the existing infrastructure. Various pieces of equipment may be in the way along with the inevitable cables and cords. With a rack fully populated with blanking panels at the time the rack is set in place, blanking becomes forethought vice afterthought. As equipment is racked panels are removed maintaining full coverage. Structured cabling is run with regards to blanking to ensure that it will not interfere. Also proper equipment mounting becomes more apparent as equipment should be mounted to the front of the rack, with proper front to rear air flow paths, to provide appropriate cooling. Negatives that should be considered to this approach are the added cost per rack for the panels and the extra panels taken out as equipment is installed.

Approach 2: Entire floor blanking audit.

                Taking the time and going around the entire existing operating floor space installing blanking panels can be an effective way of blanking. Gathering all the blanking material you need for the job and scheduling the time to perform the work during one lump sum has some benefits. Purchasing of the blanking panels in bulk may have some savings. Also, dependent on work load, scheduling the man power to do the work all at once does not fill up the schedule for a long period of time. Some negatives of this approach to think about are access issues to environments at colocation sites and getting an accurate idea of the amount of material to start with.    

Approach 3: Blank as you go (aka the default and often forgotten).

                Throughout the day to day work at a data center employees can take the time and blank open u-spaces as they go about their other duties. While this can be very beneficial it is most often not effective enough to be a standalone blanking method. High importance on blanking must be emphasized to everyone working at the center to ensure proper participation. When working inside any rack for any reason every open non-blacked U-space should be questioned and properly blanked. The negatives to this method are the time it will take to accomplish the entire floor and once again the participation level of every employee.

So as I walk around the raised floor during my daily tours I take the time to think about the little things. At first look, one open U-space may not seem to be that big of a deal, however, it can in fact make a large difference in the overall efficiency of the floor. Just remember that with a little effort the little things can be taken care of.

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4 thoughts on “The Raised Floor Perspective- Blanking”

  1. Little things always do add up. The challenge for a cool vs enterprise is that the enterprise knows when things go in and it’s usually in a large batch as opposed to lots of little installs. A cool center might have 1000 different occasions where a server is added or removed or the environment changes. Managing all those changes, and also managing the different individuals performing the work and ensuring their adherence to the best practices is very challenging. So many different individuals some of them are bound to fail to follow he practices. A program that checks up on it is a good idea, but at the same time auditing every rack in a 100,000 sf colo data center is a massive undertaking. It takes finding a balance between the benefit of blanking and the cost of the audit in time and effort. The more efficient the data center, the bigger the impact. It won’t matter much if your running a refrigerator. At the same time, I like the policy that if a customer fails to blank, they lose their SLA coverage. They didn’t follow the standard, and as a result, their server inlet temperatures go up. If you allow that to happen, and still supply only the proper volume of cold air, the provider isn’t really any worse for the wear. And really, even if the inlet goes from 77 to 95, the impact in failure rate in modern equipment will still reasonably low, at least enough that the refresh cycle will take care of you.

    Unbalanced cabinets look awful too. And nothing looks better than a nice, well cableled, well blanked, well sized environment at least to my eyes.

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    1. The aggravation of good energy management in colo and blanking plates is well stated by Alan. Constant vigilance – to one degree or another – cannot be understated. One of the benefits of the recent trend to dense distribution of temp sensors on racks is: one missing blanking plate can push a high temperature alarm at the sensor and helps find the little misdemeanors before they turn into felony blanking plate violations. The bottom line is the aggravation of tracking down isolated temperature alarms helps keep up tight containment and lends support for dense wireless temp layouts.

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  2. Cable management is another area that can add up. There should be some customer guidelines on blanking panel installation and proper cable management. Besides losing SLA coverage, customer can also be incentivized by creating some kind of credit system which they can enroll voluntarily, for example by crediting them an x% of MRC for satisfactorily managing their blanking panels and cables in accordance to our guidelines, which will be audited every y months. To incentivize customer’s behaviour to align with our energy efficiency effort is a challenging area in colocation business.

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  3. In addition to blanking panels in unoccupied cabinet RUs and attention to good cable management at the cabinet, sealing cable penetrations through the raised floor is part of the blanking and containment strategy. This may be accomplished in several ways including the installation of brushes and grommets specifically designed for this purpose. Two white paper providing good analysis on blanking and sealing are:

    1) A white paper by Panduit “The Importance of Air Sealing Grommets to Improving Smart Data Center Cooling Efficiency” http://www.panduit.com/heiler/WhitePapers/WW-CPWP-04.pdf
    2) And “Improving Rack Cooling Performance using Airflow ManagementTM Blanking Panels”, White Paper 44 by Neil Rasmussen http://www.apcmedia.com/salestools/SADE-5TPLKQ/SADE-5TPLKQ_R4_EN.pdf

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