Interstitial Systems: flooring for data centre efficiency

William Collier, owner of Interstitial Systems, on what the company’s electromechanical raised floor distribution system offers data centres

|Jul 31|magazine12 min read

Interstitial Systems is a manufacturer of multilevel electromechanical raised floor distribution systems for data centres. William Collier is the company’s founder and owner, bringing his extensive 42 years’ of industry experience to the firm.

Collier emphasises both the simplicity of Interstitial Systems’ TIER E/A electromechanical raised floor distribution system offering, and the enormous impact it can have. “It's remarkable that something as simple as dividing the underfloor horizontally into two levels for wires and air can have such a huge impact on the way a data centre is designed, serviced and maintained.” Traditionally, data centres have been built with conventional raised flooring or on concrete. “That's basically the two options that are available,” says Collier. “We're the third option that nobody knows very much about - what we refer to as an electromechanical distribution system.”

Compared to conventional flooring, Interstitial Systems’ approach comes with a host of benefits for data centres. “The beautiful part about our system is you can open up an unlimited number of floor panels for as long as you want and never lose air pressure. This is untrue for a traditional raised floor. The opening created when four floor panels are removed permits all of the air produced by a 30 ton air conditioning unit to escape. So if you open up four floor panels, all of the cabinets in that air handling unit’s zone downstream from the opening are going to be starved of air. Because of our pressurised plenum, we're able to distribute air over a 200 foot area, meaning we can push air 200 feet across the room, whereas a typical raised floor air conditioning unit can do no more than 30 to 35 feet at best. That allows us to reconfigure the design of a room to better optimise the space and improve efficiency for the user.”

“It is our belief that in data centres, white space is gold and cabinets are diamonds,” says Collier. Accordingly, the company emphasises achieving maximum efficiency for its clients, with clear examples of improvement. “In a typical room, of around 10,000 square feet, the owner’s plan was to put in 418 cabinets. With Tier E/A, the owner could put 512 cabinets in that room. That's 22% or so more cabinets in the same space. Every one of those cabinets increases revenue. So if I can put 94 more cabinets in the same space, I have a compelling story to tell.” 

Another crucial element of the data centre puzzle is uptime, with redundancy therefore being critical. “What data centres typically look for is N+1 redundancy. So for every four or five air handlers, designers add another for redundancy. But this does not provide effective redundancy unless the extra unit is adjacent to the unit that goes down. We, on the other hand, build a central mechanical equipment room and, by providing a mixing box, are able to provide true N+1 redundancy for the entire room with a single extra air handler. This is because of the Tier E/A’s pressurised plenum’s superior air distribution capabilities. We’ve just planned a project where the original design called for 32 air conditioning units. We redesigned the room and did the same with 26 air conditioning units. Taking six air conditioning units out of the equation for around $250,000 a piece provides huge savings, and also saves a great deal of energy.”

The company is continuing to develop its capabilities. “Something that we did with the trading pits for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is build a terraced, raised floor for control and command centres. Thanks to our two-level approach, we can ensure consistent air distribution in that pressurised bottom plenum and allow for the rapid change, relocation and reconfiguration of power and structured cabling underneath the floor.”

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Quotables

We're the third option that nobody knows very much about - what we refer to as an electromechanical distribution system.

William Collier | Owner, Interstitial Systems

Achieving high tech solutions doesn’t itself require anything too revolutionary for Interstitial Systems, instead it leverages technology smartly. “We're obviously big users of AutoCAD because we typically receive a set of plans, where the client says: ‘this is the direction we're going in, how would you optimise the facility using your system?’ Then there’s computational fluid dynamics analysis - again not a new technology - but when used correctly it is a powerful tool to head off any shortcomings that might occur in a facility.”

Like all businesses worldwide, Interstitial Systems has not been unaffected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. ButCollier is an eternal optimist believing that this challenge will eventually result in a better world. “I can't tell you how many people I've talked to in the last 90 days that have said: ‘Oh my God, I pick up an extra three hours a day not having to commute to the office.’ That's found time. That's family time. That's quality of life-time. That's exercise time. That's all kinds of time that allows people to do things for themselves. And at the same time, it's helping the planet because we're not putting out all the emissions from commuting back and forth.”

As for Interstitial Systems’ future, Collier is confident it is treading the right path. “We're going to keep plowing ahead, one job at a time. That's what we've always done and that's what we'll always do. We want to bring the best value to our customers. Everything's about relationships. You build networks, you find like-minded people. And when you find the people that appreciate what you do, you love doing work with them, you become a team. You become partners. You even build friendships. That's how we like to do business.”

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