Rack Blanking Panels in Data Centers: Seemingly Minor but Immensely Critical for Efficiency

The lowly “blanking panel”, simply a piece of metal that is used to cover up empty “U” space in IT racks, is far more important than its simple appearance belies. Hot aisle/cold aisle isolation is a universal tenet of datacenter design, for the simple fact that, the hotter the input air to an air conditioner, the more efficient it will run. Isolating cold air supply from hot air return by using hot and cold aisles can be a challenge for a variety of reasons:

  • IT equipment that, by design, points the wrong way (i.e. some network switches or other equipment whose fan output is towards the *front* of the chassis)
  • Empty spots in a row where a rack ought to be
  • Half-height or smaller networking racks integrated into rows of full racks
  • Missing equipment causing a “hole” in a rack

The “hole” problem is what blanking panels are designed to address. If you’re trying to isolate hot air from cold air in a datacenter, the last thing you want to have is what some have referred to as a server “drinking its own waste” – sucking warm air back from the hot aisle and pulling it into its chassis, instead of the cold air that you intend to supply to the server.
This is a simple matter of operational reality intruding on the great efficiency you originally planned into your data center, and can negate much of that effort you put into the design process. Moves, adds, and changes are a fact of life, however – but as long as you build the use of blanking panels into your actual move, add, and change processes, there’s no reason for your racks to be full of holes.
So get out there on your datacenter floor, identify your empty U spaces in racks, and start filling them – it may be one of the highest-ROI and inexpensive means you have at your command to easily improve the efficiency of your datacenter.
Also, let’s not forget…they have the great side-effect: improving the appearance of your data center. Let’s face it, presenting a professional image can have a real impact in the internal battle for operational and capital expense dollars that data center managers experience every year. Blanking panels are one of many small but effective methods you can use in your fight to win the budget wars, so use them!