How to deal with heat in your network closet or data room

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Each year, the latest models of network and server equipment draw more power and push out more heat. This means that our network closets, data rooms and other small IT spaces are getting hotter, and this will eventually cause problems. When all that hot air recirculates into the equipment inlets it can raise equipment temperatures, putting you at risk of equipment shutdowns or outright failure.

As we outline in our network closet guide, the secret to avoiding these issues is to start treating network closets the same way we treat large data centres. This means, implementing best practices for cable management, “rack hygiene” and airflow management.

If you have implemented these best practices and find that the entire network closet is still too hot, there are a number of simple steps you can take to correct the situation. The following steps are listed in the order we would usually recommend looking at them. As the list progresses, the costs and complexity also rise.

Four ways to reduce ambient temperatures in the network closet

  1. Let the hot air rise higher.

If you have a ceiling plenum, one simple, “passive” way to lower the ambient room temperature is to allow hot air to rise more easily into the plenum. To do this, you can:.

  • add perforated ceiling tiles
  • ensure that the perforated ceiling tiles are above the equipment rack
  • increase the number of perforated ceiling tiles
  • remove the ceiling tiles entirely

These steps allow the band of hot air to rise higher, which lowers the temperature at the level of the equipment inlets.

  1. Make it easier for cool air to enter the closet.

To enhance the passive airflow approach above, you can install wall- or door- mounted vents to allow more cool air to enter the closet.

  1. Push out the hot air, pull in more cool air.

When passive solutions are not enough, you can employ an active airflow solution. One common solution involves the use of powered fans mounted in the ceiling or near the top of a wall. The fans push hot air into the ceiling plenum, or into a hallway, which helps draw in more cool air from under the door or from a vent. Some organizations will install a dual-fan system, pulling in cool air from the hallway as well as pushing the hot air into the plenum.

  1. Separate the hot and cool air entirely.

If these solutions aren’t enough, you may need to look at a containment solution that compartmentalizes the air within the closet. This involves creating a divider between the front and back of the rack, essentially cutting the room in two. The divider can be created from materials such as extruded aluminum and lexan plastic, forming an inexpensive but highly effective barrier between the hot and cool air.

It is very rare that you would ever need to do it, but as a last resort, you could consider adding an A/C unit. However, adding A/C doesn’t immediately solve your temperature issues – you still need to manage airflow, as outlined above. Another caution about A/C is that it introduces a number of additional issues that you need to address. These include: maintenance, operating costs, additional power requirements, questions about where to locate the unit, where to exhaust the hot air and how to deal with condensation. Given these considerations, we always recommend first exploring passive options, which are less complex and have a lower lifetime cost.

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