Data Center Flooring How To Make The Right Choice For Your Data Center

Consider Flooring Type

There are several common types of data center flooring. Aluminum flooring is poured into a mold and then ground and milled to precise 2- x 2-foot panels. This type is usually used in cleanrooms or medical applications where the particulate count must be minimal. Steel panels with a laminate on the surface are common in data centers that have more strict structural load-bearing requirements. 

Wood-core floors consist of 2- x 2-foot particle or wafer board panels covered by galvanized sheet metal. These floors may be prone to generating zinc whiskers, explains Craig Hendricks, president of DPAccess Floors (www.dpaccessfloors.com) in Omaha, Neb. These are microscopic filaments of galvanized metal that form as the metal degrades under the continued pressure of the data center’s air conditioning. In theory, if these “whiskers” detach from the flooring and get into the airstream, they can be blown into the equipment and eventually cause problems. 

“There’s definitely a perception in the industry that it’s a problem,” says Hendricks. “If I have a customer with an existing wood system who’s contemplating replacing their floor, I strongly suggest that they go with steel or aluminum instead.”

Think About The Future

Replacing the floor in a data center that’s up 24/7/365 is a big chore. These facilities usually can’t be shut down at all, much less for a week or so while the floor is replaced, so most companies replace the floor one section at a time. Each individual vendor usually has to send customer engineers over to shut down, move, and restart the equipment. It’s also an expensive undertaking. Hendricks estimates that wood-core flooring is a less expensive option at $10 to $12 per square foot, but steel runs at about $13 to $15, and aluminum is $25 to $28. 

That’s why, when selecting a floor, you have to think of today and tomorrow. “When I meet with engineers and architects, I work with them so that what they choose works for today but also down the road, a minimum of five years,” Hendricks says. “That’s hard for those guys to do, but they’re spending a lot of money, and they don’t want to buy something that won’t work in a few years.”

Consider Weight & Traffic

A floor will last longer if you’ve designed it to be stronger where it has to be. “When you’re rolling equipment down aisles, it not only weighs a lot, but it’s concentrated on wheels, and the dynamics of rolling are different from standing,” says John Longden, president of Hudson, Mass.,-based server workspace design firm Longden (www.longden.com). Because many flooring options are modular so that different types of panels can be placed or replaced in different areas, you can prevent excessive wear by putting stronger panels where the traffic is higher or the weight is heavier. For example, in a 2- x 3-foot space where a power distribution unit will stand, you might need a panel rated for 1,250 or even 1,500 pounds. But a steel pressed-form panel, which is filled with a concrete aggregate, will have a much higher rolling load capacity and might be a better choice for aisles where heavy loads will regularly roll.

Conductive & Static-Dissipative Flooring

Walking on any floor generates static electricity. But only touching metal creates a shock. “Static electricity by itself is not a problem to computers or data centers,” says David Long, president of Staticworx in Watertown, Mass. “It’s only a problem when it’s discharged.” 

That illustrates an important principle about data center floors: They can’t allow too much electricity to be generated, and they also have to conduct it so that it is dissipated as it is generated. For example, if a carpet is rated at 3.5kV, that means that walking on it generates about 3,500 volts. But a good data center floor has to conduct electricity so that the charge is smaller if it’s accidentally discharged. That property is measured in ohms. A material with few ohms (like a metal) conducts electricity very well, while a material with many ohms (like plastic) doesn’t conduct. Remember to consider both properties when you’re considering a flooring option. 

You also have to make sure that electrical properties of any material are permanent. For example, a floor’s conductivity might decline over time because its conductivity comes from a wax covering that degrades. “There’s no point in putting in a floor and having it fail two years later,” Long says. 

by Holly Dolezalek



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