Data center airflow management is very much required to achieve energy efficiency in data centers. The main reason for this is that no matter how well the operating systems of a data center work, it will ultimately depend on the efficiency of its hardware and software. However, the system will only succeed massively if these two are handled well in a data center.

If a data center is not managed properly, it can cause many problems for the companies that run them.

Data Center airflow management is key to energy efficiency.

Data center airflow management is key to energy efficiency. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has released a study that suggests a significant increase in energy efficiency for the data center industry. The apparent reason for this increase is implementing better cooling technology and reducing wasted energy from data centers. The study shows that a company can gain anywhere from 1% to 30% higher energy efficiency by implementing more efficient airflow.

To improve energy efficiency, companies need to change their thinking about how they work in data centers. It is essential to control data center cooling and power, so they are running at peak performance levels. Each design should have sensors that monitor temperatures and humidity levels to ensure the proper functioning of cooling equipment.

To correctly manage airflow in a data center, it is necessary to understand the facility’s insides. There are two kinds of airflow in a typical data center: free cooling and traditional cooling.

  • Traditional cooling involves using mechanical systems to cool the servers and rack equipment within the data center.
  • Free cooling relies on natural airflow to remove excess heat from the system. This method is much more sustainable and reduces energy consumption by 30%.

Air circulates in a data center through active systems or passive methods such as natural convection (heat rises) and conduction (colder air sinks). Overall, an efficient airflow management system will have a balance between passive and active systems.

The effects of poor airflow

The use of cooling equipment such as air conditioner systems or the introduction of cold air from the outside through air intakes can drastically change the temperature and humidity inside the server room.

Cold air will take up more space than warm air, and it thus displaces the warm air from other parts of the room. It will cause erratic temperatures. It might result in overheating of some components of the room and a reduction in system efficiency.

The effect of poor airflow may vary:

  • Improper airflow management can result in excessive heat generated by the equipment housed within a data center. This waste of energy can increase costs and reduce the system’s efficiency.
  • An improper balance between hot air leaving and cold air entering a server room can result in fluctuations in temperature throughout a facility as hot air escapes into adjacent areas.
  • A poor quality HVAC system will need to expel hot air quickly enough, causing it to accumulate within a server room.
  • Inadequate cooling can cause servers and other equipment to run hotter than they should, leading to more frequent failures, downtime, and loss of productivity.

Data centers without proper airflow management can have a failure rate as high as 90% during peak load times, costing $3B in downtime for just one company.

Data Center’s HVAC Common Problems

Whether a new or an existing data center, airflow management can ensure the facility’s longevity. As HVAC units age, they are vulnerable to some problems, including but not limited to the following:

  • Loss of efficiency (energy waste)
  • Unnecessary fan power usage (power waste)
  • Unprotected motors and associated wiring (fire hazard)
  • Loss of proper airflow throughout the unit
  • Unregulated temperatures

The issues you might encounter can range from mere annoyances to catastrophic failures, depending on the type of problem you run into and your data center’s specific circumstances. While predictive maintenance software is becoming increasingly important for data centers, even a well-maintained system can have issues that need addressing.

Airflow management is crucial to data center design.

As you can imagine, improperly designed airflow in a data center can lead to dire consequences, including server overheating and even fire. That’s why it’s critical to know the whys behind proper airflow management and to develop a strategy from the start.

There are three main types of airflow that you need to consider when you design your data center: rack-to-rack airflow, cross-row airflow, and hot aisle/cold aisle airflow. The main difference between these three is how the air moves through each area.

Rack-to-rack airflow

The natural movement of air from an area with high pressure to a low-pressure area. The best way to ensure good rack-to-rack airflow is to leave open space between racks and never obstruct the sides of servers or the back of racks. When there’s much congestion in a server room, it can create dead zones where there isn’t enough circulation and servers overheat.

Cross-row airflow

This technique moves air from one side of the row to the other. It helps ensure that the airflow equally cools all equipment. The most common obstructions for cross-row airflow are raised floor tiles and power outlets. So, keeping them in places that might block the air circulation path across rows is essential.

Hot aisle/cold aisle airflow

It is one of the most critical considerations in data center design. The hot aisle is where most of the equipment is located, and the cold aisle is where the rest is. These two aisles are usually separated by baffles or some other way to reduce heat transfer.


When you’re looking to optimize your energy consumption and overall efficiency, one of the first places to look is the air flowing through your data center.

According to one study, hot aisle/cold aisle flow saved data centers 12-20% on energy costs (all energy costs, not just cooling). For example, if you have an average PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) of 1.5 with hot aisle/cold aisle flow and two without, that difference could save you $500K per year.

Airflow management is one of the most crucial elements of data center design. The hot aisle/cold aisle setup ensures that equipment stays at an ideal temperature, which reduces the risk of system failure. When designing a new data center, it’s crucial to understand how airflow works to ensure your design is built correctly.

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