Who Owns Containment?


Cary Frame is President and founder of Polargy, a provider of hot- and cold-aisle containment solutions.

Who owns containment? No one. This is the problem.

Hot- and cold-aisle containment is a data center best practice that is experiencing hyper-growth in adoption because of its large impact on energy efficiency and operating cost savings. Interestingly, there is still no clear ownership of containment within the enterprise, among industry trades or between manufacturers.

We work on the leading edge of growth in data center containment by focusing on product innovation and enabling fast and precise implementation. We offer this perspective on containment ownership based on our observations from over five years in the containment market.

In our experience, what drives ambiguity around containment ownership is that it exists along the boundaries of job scope for multiple traditional players within data center white space. It also represents a more customized solution set than much of the industry is accustomed to.

Different Perspectives on Containment

On the user side, containment physically touches data center server racks, which are the responsibility of IT or IT Operations management within the enterprise, but it significantly impacts air conditioning performance, which is typically under the purview of facilities management. In addition, some enterprises have corporate energy managers who want or need to participate in the discussion. On the supply side, no single manufacturer type has claimed the category and no trade (mechanical, electrical, etc.) has taken a lead role. Because no one has stepped into full ownership of containment, up to five separate groups inside and outside the data center currently get involved.

Within the enterprise, we see retrofit projects managed by data center operations as often as by facilities. However, we rarely see IT responsible for driving decisions, and though we find energy managers at the table, they almost never drive a project, but rather consult on ROI. When it comes to commissioning containment, all three constituents have strong stakes in the upgraded operating environment.

What’s the Cold Aisle Containment Strategy?

As part of the standard engagement process we request that all three groups participate in outcome targets and commissioning planning. The key question these groups must agree on is what the new cold aisle temperature will be. Typically, IT people seek cold aisle temperatures in the mid-60s, data center operations people tend to favor temperatures in the low-70s, and facilities people prefer to run near the ASHRAE limit of 80.7°F. Besides these three operational groups, trades and manufacturers also suffer containment ownership ambiguity.

As a lead containment contactor, we routinely trains and subcontracts a variety of firms from other trades to install containment. Our solutions have been installed by low voltage, flooring, interior, mechanical, and electrical contractors. Scholes Electrical and Mechanical in New Jersey has both electrical and low voltage groups, and Polargy has done projects with both groups for the same client. No particular contractor type has emerged as the one best suited to initiate and own containment projects.

“At CRB, we’ve seen a growing number of owners procure containment from containment companies like Polargy, but also from rack makers like Chatsworth,” reports Daniel Bodenski, Director of Mission Critical Services at CRB. “Likewise, in our mission critical project work, we’ve seen a variety of subcontractors install containment, including electricians, flooring contractors, and again the containment vendors themselves. No single group appears to be claiming full ownership yet.”

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  1. Peter Thomas

    When it comes to Hot / Cold containment, no one does it better than Switch SuperNaps and their patented T-SCIF design.

  2. Tom Howard

    In the center I manage we have adopted a simple approach to cold aisle containment in that we utilize various types of blanking panels that mount in the racks and we also fabricate light weight end cap sliding dual doors. This has worked well for us and the colo customers as well.

  3. Louis Frost

    Containment crosses a lot of boundaries. Rich's assessment that it is basically mechanical would generally seem correct, since it's primary function is to control airflow. However, it does cross the boundaries into other fields. From an architectural standpoint, not only is there the aesthetic issue, but coordination with other trades, building code issues, and structural issues. We also have seen some confusion from the AJHs not knowing exactly how to treat some of these issues. I agree it could be several years before we have smoothed it all out. However, it is here to stay as long as we use air to cool IT equipment.