The Intersection of Airflow Management and Virtualization9 min read

by | Oct 26, 2016 | Blog

I know what you’re thinking, “How does virtualization relate to airflow management and data center cooling?” Well, before we get into that, it’s important to define the many different kinds of virtualization, so we know what we’re talking about.

Garter defines virtualization as “the abstraction of IT resources that masks the physical nature and boundaries of those resources from resource users. An IT resource can be a server, a client, storage, networks, applications or OSs. Essentially, any IT building block can potentially be abstracted from resource users.”

There are generally three basic or main categories of virtualization: storage virtualization, network virtualization, and server virtualization. The server virtualization category is the most common and it is considered the predominant driver of the market. When most people use the term “virtualization,” they are more than likely referring to server virtualization. Server virtualization makes the physical server hardware ‘invisible’, including the total number and identity of each server, processor and operating system, from the software applications running on them.

Why Virtualization is Important

Deploying a virtualization strategy helps IT organizations accomplish the very difficult task of providing services that improve the business-value creation and reduce costs by delivering an expansive, reliable, and secure infrastructure in a constantly changing environment. The benefits of deploying server virtualization include lower hardware maintenance cost and greater energy efficiency. Beyond the cost savings, virtualization also greatly improves a business’ flexibility. Companies that deploy virtualization techniques are better situated to respond to the constant and changing demands the business places on IT resources.

The Impact of Virtualization on Data Center Cooling

So how would a virtualization business strategy intersect with your cooling infrastructure? Server virtualization can save on average 10% to 15% kWh of energy costs per year. This savings derives from reduced power consumption due to fewer servers needing to be running, and fewer servers running automatically translates to reduced power consumption.

Could you save more? Based on Upsite Technologies research, you could be missing some very simple and cost-effective improvements that would enhance your server virtualization ROI. Upsite’s research has found that the running cooling capacity is on average 4 times (4X) the IT load. The ideal is 1.1 times to 1.2 times the IT load. Bypass air open area, expensive and energy intensive conditioned air not passing through IT equipment, on average was 48%. This should be less than 10%. Clearly, room for improvement exists by understanding and proactively addressing airflow management.

Managing Airflow with Virtualization

Have you implemented or even thought about an airflow management (AFM) program? Including such program into your cost-reducing and IT-business-value creation, efforts would certainly help maximize the value IT brings to your organization. Cooling is the largest component of Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE = Total Facility Power/IT Equipment Power), but airflow is invisible and easy to overlook. Airflow management savings is not automatic as with turning off or removing IT equipment. However, although an effort is required, the good news is that it’s not difficult.

As you plan (or if you have already completed) your virtualization deployment, it’s fundamental to answer some basic airflow management questions, such as:

• How many perforated tiles are not in front of IT equipment?
• Are cable openings in the raised floor sealed effectively?
• Are vertical planes sealed along the face of IT equipment intakes?
• Are all spaces sealed between and under cabinets?
• Have you calculated your computer room’s cooling capacity factor (CCF)?

With a consolidated footprint, it’s important to look at your cooling infrastructure and make proactive changes to support the new virtualization footprint with its new power density profile. This is likely to improve upon energy savings of virtualization. But like virtualization, it will also allow the IT organization to be more nimble, possibly increase capacity to add servers and help free up stranded cooling capacity to avoid unnecessary CAPEX infrastructure investments. The goal is to utilize your existing infrastructure to get the most out of the investment dollars the organization has already spent.


Virtualization is no longer just about server consolidation. Flexibility is a key benefit of the technology. In virtualized environments, it’s easier to move things around, to encapsulate, to archive and to optimize. Though challenging, attaining server virtualization targets is a great way to demonstrate fiscal relevance to management. So if you have deployed (or are considering deploying) a virtualization strategy, be sure to include airflow management best practices to improve upon an already attractive ROI and become the star of IT-business-value creation.

Lars Strong

Lars Strong

Senior Engineer


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