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The Debate between Hard Flooring and Raised Flooring in Data Centers

Raised flooring has been a staple in data centers for years and was installed in at least one or more rooms in nearly all first generation facilities. The raised design was intended to provide the space needed for cooling and cabling for power and communications, with easy access to all elements.

In recent years, however, the trend has moved toward hard flooring, with cooling and cabling installed overhead.

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FloroProxy in data center aisle, expertly installed by DLS of TX.

 

The key considerations in deciding which flooring to choose are:

  • Power density: For today’s higher-density deployments, a raised floor may not have the capacity to achieve sufficient cooling. And even when cooling is adequate, many older legacy cooling systems can be inefficient and wasteful, in terms of the carbon footprint required to run them. In both cases, overhead cabling and solid flooring may offer better options.
  • Frequency and degree of rack rearrangement: In facilities such as certain co-located data centers, the cost of installing overhead cables and ductwork and reconfiguring the infrastructure to accommodate changes may so exceed the cost of inefficient cooling that raised floors may remain the better option for the near future, so long as operational security and safety can be maintained. Overhead access and solid flooring can then be considered when long-term budgeting.

The “Then” and “Now” Related to Raised Floors

The raised floor was developed to provide certain functionality for early data centers. As the equipment has changed, so have the needs, as follows:

  • Cold air distribution for cooling IT equipment – Early on, equipment came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. At this point, equipment types are fairly standardized, so it is much easier to plan where the equipment will be located and define the required airflows. The need to move the cooling pathways is, therefore, greatly reduced or eliminated.
  • Tracks, conduits or supports for data cabling – Early on, bulky multi-conductor copper cables connected IT cabinets. To avoid signal degradation, these cables needed to be as short as possible. Today’s data centers use either fiber or high-bandwidth ethernet interconnection cables, which can operate over much longer distances. Therefore, the need for short-distance access has been all but eliminated.
  • Space for power cabling – In early data centers, IT equipment was often hard-wired, with power connections entering from beneath. Access to the circuits was easily done by simply removing floor tiles. Cabinets today allow for power connections through the top, as well. The PDUs and overhead busways in use today provide much easier access and are more convenient than underfloor conduits.
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  • A copper ground grid for grounding of equipment – Originally, there needed to be solid grounding between interconnected equipment, so equipment was generally bonded to a copper signal reference grid. Currently, the copper and optical fiber communication technology does not depend on grounding between devices for its function. Safety is provided by the grounding wire in every branch circuit.
  • Space for utility piping or running chilled water – Most of the functional needs for a raised floor have been eliminated. However, some newer cooling designs still require that water be distributed within the IT space, and a raised floor may still be practical for this.

When are raised floors preferable?

There are still a few instances in which raised floors may be preferred:

  • Where the cooling system requires chilled water within the IT space (as discussed above).
  • In low-density data centers in which determining the row locations of devices in advance would be difficult or impossible, such as some caged co-location spaces.

In neither case does the raised floor need significant depth. Nevertheless, raised flooring systems can be extremely costly to install compared to hard flooring. Therefore, it behooves data center designers and builders to carefully evaluate all options in use today, rather than simply choosing based on past projects.

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Florock White Knight Gray floor with logo, skillfully installed by AAA Flooring of CO.

When are hard floors preferable?

Hard floor designs are routinely implemented in all types of modern data storage facilities and server rooms. Examples where hard floors are now preferred:

  • Hyperscale data centers, the numbers of which are growing at a tremendous rate, due to the unprecedented demand for huge storage capacity.
  • High-density data centers that can use the new fresh air systems and hot-aisle containment strategies
  • Smaller data centers, where the space needed to build ramps up to the raised floor level is unavailable.
  • Spaces with low headroom in which the floor cannot be raised enough to accommodate the needed power density

Thanks to new technology and design, added to the much lower cost of installation and maintenance, hard flooring is being seen in ever more data centers.

Whichever you choose…

The finish and ongoing care of your floor are critical to a well-functioning data center. We offer virtually seamless, dust-minimizing, static control (ESD/conductive) flooring, as well as finishes that mitigate moisture vapor transmission. The professionals at Florock welcome your questions. Our experience in installing flooring in this type of industry enables us to offer professional guidance in choosing the best flooring for your facility.