A high tech world beneath your feet
By Ajith Ram December 6, 2016
- Faulty raised floors cause build up of static electricity
- Servers, data centers and main power junctions at risk
HAVE you ever wondered what lies beneath your feet in a large office or server room? Do you know the technology underneath is just as important as the one above it?
Welcome to the hidden world of raised floors.
A raised floor or raised access computer floor provides an elevated structural floor above a solid substrate (often a concrete slab) to create a hidden void for the passage of mechanical and electrical services.
Raised floors are widely used in modern office buildings and in specialised areas such as IT data centers nd computer rooms, where there is a requirement to route cables and electrical supply.
Such flooring can be installed at varying heights from two inches to four feet to suit services that may be accommodated beneath. Additional structural support and lighting are often provided when a floor is raised enough for a person to crawl or even walk beneath.
Unfortunately, most server administrators and data center technicians are not aware of the importance of the quality of raised floors. For instance, one of the major causes of server short circuits and data center outages is the poor quality of the raised floors that the servers rest on.
Each floor tile is made of steel and cement. Since cement is cheaper than steel, certain unscrupulous manufacturers increase the amount of cement while decreasing the steel content. After a few years, these floors start to emanate micro fibers - tiny strands of metal filaments which float in the air.
When these micro fibers enter the interior of a PC or a server, they start to cause short circuits. If they end up inside the server room or data center main power junction, they could completely shut it down.
In such scenarios, most system administrators are likely to blame the server manufacturers like Dell or HP. They rarely understand that the problem lies directly underneath their feet.
Another issue with using sub-standard raised floor tiles is the build up of static. Since the tiles do not have enough metal, there is no easy route for the static electric charge to pass through to earth. Once it crosses the tipping point, the static charge will cause a painful 'hit' on a passing human or move to a vital PC component in the office, creating a short circuit.
Yet another issue in the raised floor industry is false advertising. The strength of each floor tile is designated by internationally accepted ratings such as FS800, FS1000 etc. For instance, FS800 means the qualified tile can withstand 800 pounds of weight at its weakest centre point.
If the manufacturer decides to cut corners by reducing the metal content, the strength of the tile will also taper off dramatically. Then, if a heavy server rack is placed on it, the tile will start to cave in. At that point, the entire office or server room floor will need to be replaced at great expense.
One of the oldest companies specialising in raised floors is Alcol. Founded in the United States, Alcol's original claim to fame is that they supplied raised floors to NASA. They are now expanding their South East Asian operations. Recently, Alcol opened their Malaysian office in Kuala Lumpur.
DNA met Sujith Francis, CEO of Alcol, for a brief discussion on their current projects and future plans.
DNA: Do you feel that many server administrators and architects are still ignorant of the importance of raised floors which conform to international standards?
Absolutely. Many think all raised floors are exactly the same. It is a little bit like saying all PCs and CPUs are identical. While there are IT courses which teach programming and server administration, there are none that teach about the need for quality raised floors and how to maintain them.
DNA: How are your projects in Asia going? Which are the biggest ones?
Most of our work is in India now as the market is growing fast. The technology and benefits of raised floors are just being realised by designers and clients in India and the potential is very high unlike a mature market like Singapore. We are currently in the process of executing Astra Zeneca, Comcast and IBM projects in India.
DNA: What are the latest technological developments in raised floor technology?
Today, we are looking at integrating the air conditioning with Building Management Systems through wireless technology. This technology is helping us to reduce waste by making air conditioning controls user friendly for large buildings and installations.
The idea is to enable users to shut down sections of the air conditioning in buildings when occupancy is low, thereby reducing maintenance and energy consumption. Energy efficient systems are the key to the future.
DNA: What sets Alcol apart from the competition?
Strength of the system by design has been our competitive advantage right from inception. This has enabled us to work with famous clients like NASA in the US, Singtel in Singapore, Eschelon in Colombo and ANZ Bank in India. We are focusing on delivering the same robustness with lesser material content in the tile and making the product recyclable.
DNA: Are you finding it difficult to compete against Chinese manufacturers who do not rely on brands?
In some cases, yes. Economics do play an important role as raised floor constitutes a good cost overhead in large projects. And knowledge about this is limited among builders.
As the product is often not seen, some companies go for tiles with lower costs which are not certified. At Alcol, we provide test certificates from accredited labs for each batch manufactured. All our clients value that guarantee.
DNA: What have been your biggest projects in Malaysia and Singapore so far?
Housing Development Board, Singapore, Singtel, National History Museum, Singapore, KLCC and Putrajaya Admin Headquarters.
DNA: What are your plans for 2017?
On the market front, we plan to consolidate our position in India, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh. We have plans to start operations in three more countries.
On the product front, we are about to launch a revolutionary new tile design called Alcol X1. This is the start of a process of moving away from traditional cement-based raised floor tiles.
We are also developing and testing a new fire-rated flooring system which is priced close to the current cement-based one. We are certain this will reduce costs without compromising safety.