What's Available In Raised Flooring
A Good Foundation Makes All The Difference
Despite rumors that raised flooring in the data center has become a thing of the past, nothing could be further from the truth. Although raised floors have been a staple in the data center for many years, modern technologies often overwhelm outdated installations, especially when it comes to cooling requirements.
The move has not been to eliminate raised floors but instead to redesign them to meet new standards. Ron Hughes, president of the California Data Center Design Group, points out that typical structural support for a data center is often 1,250 pounds per square foot; however, many customers are opting for as much as 1,500 to 2,000 pounds per square foot for their new data centers.
Likewise with the height of the flooring. "Five years ago, 24 inches was the norm. The demand now is for 36 inches to accommodate more cooling," says Hughes.
Nuts & Bolts
Raised floors, also referred to as "access floors," are basically suspended ceilings turned upside down. A metal framework-either steel or aluminum-supports removable floor tiles, the most common size being 2-foot square. The height of the panels from the base floor can vary from 2 to 40 inches depending on the amount of electrical, data, and telecommunications cabling, as well as cooling requirements.
Over the previous 40 years, Tate Access Floors have been installed throughout countless data centers. Tate offers both steel and aluminum panels. The steel-based system has two options: a lightweight All Steel panel with an epoxy paint finish for extended wear and its ConCore panel, a welded steel shell filled with cement.
Both panels are interchangeable with different panel strengths and are entirely noncombustible. The All Steel offers bolted stringers for 1000, 1250, and 1500 specifications, while the ConCore offers more choices with specifications for 1000, 1250, 1500, 2000, and 2500, including Bolted Stringer, Posilock-Cornerlock, and Posilock-Freestanding for the 1000 and 1250 specifications.
Tate's aluminum system, Floating Floors, offers both solid die-cast panels as well as airflow and grate tiles. Popular in hi-tech environments, these ultra lightweight tiles come in specifications of 1250 and 3000.
Tate offers over 30 different panel finishes, including cork, vinyl, carpet, linoleum, porcelain, rubber, and epoxy.
Although Bergvik Flooring's headquarters and manufacturing is based in Sweden, its raised floor products are installed all over the world, including emergency communication centers for the Department of Homeland Security here in the United States.
Bergvik offers three raised flooring systems. The Tech Floor system, popular in communication centers, is a steel-based construction with adjustable pedestals up to 20 inches. Solid floor panels come in three standard sizes with an assortment of finishes.
For installations requiring support for heavier equipment-up to 30% more than conventional raised floor systems-Bergvik's Iso Floor, its flagship product for data centers, combines strength and flexibility. Another plus, the laminate floor panel is recyclable and contains less than 10?g/m3 of formaldehyde, making it environmentally friendly.
The HiFlex Floor is an alternative to concrete floors with cable cellars. The steel structure is capable of delivering a maximum finished floor height a little over 11 feet high and distributed loads from 1,125 to 3,375 pounds per square foot.
Peter Brandstrom, president of the North American division of Bergvik, says there are plenty of raised floor manufacturers from which to choose; however, Bergvik's goal is to offer a quality product of value for long-term installations.
Just because an older installation is starting to show some wear and tear, that's no reason to replace an entire raised flooring system. Access Floors Onsite provides mobile refurbishing services on location. Its Mobile Ops units are self-contained workshops that refurbish existing core materials, including stripping, cleaning, resurfacing, replacing, and recoating worn and delaminating tiles on location. In addition to a significant cost savings compared to all new floor tiles, there is minimal disruption. Access Floors can remove, resurface, and replace tiles in a matter of minutes.
Access Floors can either match existing panels for spot repairs or completely overhaul tiles with new finishes, including epoxy, vinyl, wood, carpet, rubber, and laminates of assorted colors.
Unfortunately, not all floor tiles merit refurbishing. Heavily oxidized tiles or wood-core panels should be replaced instead of risking possible structural integrity.
When most people think of raised floors, they think 18 to 24 inches minimum. "We are typically dealing with concrete floor environments that don't have HVAC needs," says Jean-Paul LeBlanc of FlexSpace, which offers Cablefloor, a low-profile raised floor that only adds 2.5 inches of floor height?just enough space to snake through power, data, and telecom cables. Based on the standard 2- x 2-foot panel size, Cablefloor can be installed in a fraction of the time compared to traditional raised floors.
Similarly, CableOrganizer's Powerflor offers a low-profile access floor system that also includes standalone cabling for power and voice/data integrated into the panels themselves. Although these panels may seem pricier than other raised floors, when the cost of cabling is factored in, it becomes financially attractive.
Over time, dust, dirt, and unused cabling are going to collect under raised floor systems. When the time does come to break into the underbelly of the floor, it's going to be a dirty job. Data Clean Mechanical Services is a company specializing in repair and cleaning services for raised floor environments, as well as the removal of unused cables, also referred to as "cable mining."
Rich Hill of Data Clean says keeping the floor's surface clean is especially important for maintaining its conductive properties. "If the pores of the laminate become compromised, it decreases the conduction properties. Cleaning helps the floor do its job," he says. Hill explains that the floor itself isa mechanical system and should regularly be maintained the same as any other piece of equipment.
Another service Data Clean provides is nonstructural seismic mitigation services. Companies in geographic areas prone to seismic activity (such as California) need to take special consideration when making the decision to install raised floors. During earthquakes, damage often happens when equipment on casters or pads bounces around on the raised floor and falls into the holes left by panels that have shifted during the sudden movement. Raised floors enhanced for seismically active regions have heavy cast undersides, sturdier support pedestals, and bolts to secure tiles in place.
Currently, the American Society of Civil Engineers is working on a Guide for the Selection, Installation, and Use of Raised Computer Floors in seismic zones. The guide will include descriptions of various design features of raised floor systems, review shake-table test results of raised floors, review earthquake performance of raised floor systems, and identify features that appear to contribute to good seismic performance. There will also be a guide for selecting raised floors, anchorage and restraint of equipment on raised floors, and retrofitting of raised floors.
While there are critics of raised floor systems, some organizations, such as the U.S. Green Building Council, are promoting the use of access flooring in new construction. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System consists of a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. Raised flooring companies that participate in LEED, such as Tate, prominently display the Council's logo.