Bespoke DataRacks containment a driver for data centre sustainability

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With data centre sustainability being a topic of much discussion, emphasis is being placed on companies providing equipment used in such facilities to be part of the solution.

Jeremy Hartley is the founder and managing director of DataRacks, a company that provides quality, tailor-made products, and services to meet the needs of data centre providers. “I founded the company way back in the early ’80s and got into data centre work in ’89. We are a family business, and my son and daughter are significant parts of the operation.

“At DataRacks, we design, manufacture, assemble, deliver, and install all our products, which covers server racks, containment, security cages, and lots of customised built to order racks. Our main principle is customer service, and it’s what we’ve built a reputation on and why we’ve still got customers coming back to us after 20 years.”

Depending on the projects taken on, DataRacks can ship around 100 units a week, 90 per cent of which are customised to the customer’s specific needs. Often for large orders, deliveries are done via a roll-out programme that sees multiple smaller batches of a product being delivered over time rather than everything arriving at once. “This gives the customer great flexibility, Hartley adds. “We operate globally although most of our installation work is in the UK and Europe.”

Building sustainability throughout the organisation

In terms of their environmental credentials, DataRacks has a proud record. They won the Ethical/Green Business of the Year award for the East of England in 2018 and were finalists for the same award at the national level. Hartley says they are committed to minimising resource consumption at their factory and use sustainable materials in all their products.

“Our factory uses solar panels, and when the sun shines in England long enough, we are self-supporting in electricity during the daylight hours. When we moved to this factory, we built in the recycling of the water, and all our products are recyclable.

“As a company, we have put a lot of effort into trying to be as green as we can, and I would like to have more changes involved in trying to cut our factory emissions from some of the gas-fired ovens we use.

“Customers are getting much more aware of sustainability in their businesses, and from an energy-saving point of view, we can do that quite easily with our cold aisle and hot aisle containments.”

Success on a retrofit project

One project that DataRacks worked on shows the benefits of having customised storage and service products in driving sustainability within data centres. They teamed up with Equinix as part of a global project to reduce their global carbon footprint. Initial work began at Equinix data centres in the UK.

“Our first phase was 8,000 square metres, where we had to retrofit our containment into all those areas and live data centres. We had to be very wary of how we worked, helping with fire suppression with our drop-down roof panels to sure it was compatible, and it went well.”

Data shows that the power usage effectiveness (PUE) improved after installing DataRacks’ products, from 1.69 in 2019 to 1.35 by the end of 2020. As a result, Equinix saw a 300-kilowatt average fan power saving, equivalent to £300,000 per year.

“I think they have been impressed by what they achieved. It was a test project to see if it would deliver what they hoped it would, and it has gone beyond that, which is good news for them and goods new for us. It validated my own belief that cold containment in a retrofit area is ideal and brings excellent results. It was extremely fast from their outlay in payback terms, and they have not had to wait years and years for a payback.”

Despite the challenges of building cold aisle containment to fit cages within existing infrastructure including a drop-down roof for fire suppression, Hartley says it was nothing beyond what DataRacks is already capable of providing. “It all started with a meeting. This then led to fitting a test area then to complete surveys of all the areas we were working in. We then carried out full engineering drawings, which were submitted for approval, after which it was into manufacturing. We try and use our standard building blocks of product to make things quicker in response times.

“I tend to look at it as having a big pile of Lego bricks, and then we put it together in exactly the format that the customer wants.”

Evolving containment strategies

The types of hot or cold aisle containment fixtures used on the Equinix project are becoming an essential piece of equipment for customers looking to make their data centres more sustainable. Hartley estimates that almost all customers use the components from an energy efficiency perspective on new builds even with in-row cooling or chip-based cooling where there is mixed technology.

“On the older builds and the Equinix project, a retrofit, it is growing all the time. Hopefully, while I keep spreading the word from the results that we have got from the Equinix project, other people will see the benefits of doing it because it is relatively simple to retrofit.

A handy feature of DataRacks’ 19” racks is the built-in airflow management. “We were involved in the EU Code of Conduct in its early days, and that was about how you can improve all these things. We recognised the benefits early on, and we have utilised airflow management since day one into our rack, so they have got all the gaps filled with infills. We supply all our server racks with a full complement of blanking panels from the start to encourage people to follow best practice, and that is how it has always remained. Whenever we are designing a rack for someone, it is part and parcel of our remit to try and make sure they follow that best practice.

“To me, if you want to have best practice, you have got to do that. We have even made airflow management for our competitor’s racks because they do not often have them, particularly in their older models. We can design, fit, and make the product for competitor’s products.”

Hartley prides himself on the company’s full-service offering that includes surveying a site, building customised hot or cold containment for any other rack environment, installing it within a live setting and significantly impacting the PUE to drive savings.

“We do have an in-house slogan, which is ‘I didn’t know you did that’. We have been doing this for years, and we forget to share what we do with many people, then obviously they come across us, and we get lots of repeat work. Word of mouth works well too. But there is always room to grow, and we have got the capacity to grow.

“There are still many doubters out there that our containment, particularly cold containment, retrofit works. We are hoping part of what we have done with Equinix will show people that it does.”

 

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