FM Frequency: Data Center Planning

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By Jeff Crane, P.E., LEED® AP Published in the May 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager For many organizations, space planning is a complicated and challenging responsibility. Acquisitions, mergers, technology, and the “invisible hand of the market” demand flexible workspaces and even more accommodating facilities managers (FM). Being creative, resourceful, and a little bit lucky can be the difference between FM heroes and zeros. If there were an official symbol for the FM of the new millennium, it might be a horseshoe shaped cell phone with a large four leaf clover sticker covering a nuclear powered battery, a rabbit foot antennae, and a built-in Magic 8-Ball. Remember those high tech decision makers? Even the most effective business leader would probably be more accurate predicting the weather (or Paris Hilton’s VISA bill) 12 months from today than predicting their mid-2007 staff needs. From master planning a three million square foot, 15 building campus to adding a 2,600 square foot “cube farm”, FMs are often conductors of an orchestra comprised of department heads, architects, engineers, contractors, code officials, landlords, and vendors. Even with an assembly of the greatest designers, contractors, and suppliers, the FM is constantly challenged to be a master of details. Planning a new data center or renovating an older one can be an interesting FM undertaking. The brains of these exclusive rooms (servers, phone switches, cabling, and other supporting equipment) are often designed and managed by a senior IT person or chief technology officer while the guts (cooling, power, generator, UPS, fire protection, and access control) are often specified and later maintained by the FM. A cooperative effort between IT and facilities can lead to a successful project and a highly dependable resource. As a mechanical engineer, my DNA is unlike that of the hard core IT person. But it’s amazing what I’ve learned through years of project osmosis. For example, I know that “IP phones are way cool,” “Cat 3 is old school,” and “Dude, Cat 5e rocks!” I nod approvingly when techies brag about the size of their WANs, use both hands to count their T1s, and use the word “megabit” multiple times in the same sentence. I know that wireless networks aren’t always secure and that electronics have severe “allergies” to heat and water. I also knew enough to dive in front of the monitor on Christmas Eve when my eight-year-old son conducted a Yahoo! search for “naughty and nice” hoping to confirm his status with Santa Claus. Thank goodness my son isn’t an IT guy (yet), although his curiosity is exactly the reason why our family’s PC is in the kitchen…but I digress. FMs in the planning stage of a data center project might find the following list useful as an outline for brainstorming sessions or additional research. Informed (and early) agreement and harmony between IT and facilities can prove valuable over the life of a data center. I. General Considerations
  • Have we been given a budget? Or are we expected to develop one?
  • Will our data center be a showcase to impress clients? Or will it be a “back of house” work area?
  • Should we design to a certain level of redundancy and/or network availability?
  • What do we love/hate about our existing data centers?
  • Are we going to re-use existing equipment? Or are we working from scratch?
  • How much space do we need and where will we put everything?
  • Do we need—or want—raised flooring or overhead cable racks?
  • Should we install water detection alarms with remote monitoring?
  • Can we install floor drains to manage water emergencies quickly?
  • Who should create and maintain the data center operations and procedures manuals?
  • What future technologies or departmental growth should we consider?
  • How will we transition services from current data center(s) to the new facilities?
II. HVAC/Mechanical Systems
  • What type of supplemental cooling would be most appropriate (package, split, floor mount, direct expansion, glycol, air vs. water cooled)?
  • What’s the best method of air distribution (ducted, pressurized floor/ceiling, rack watt densities, hot/cool rows)?
  • How much redundancy do we need vs. want (loads vs. capacity, maintenance, reliability, cost)?
  • What type of controls are most appropriate (remote monitoring/control, alarms, maintenance)?
  • Do we really need humidification and/or dehumidification (types, control tolerance, risks, equipment requirements)?
  • How do we achieve acceptable indoor air quality for staff working in the space (CO2 monitoring, outside air ventilation, particulate filtration)?
III. Electrical
  • Do we need or want a generator to backup the data center and other spaces in the building (maintenance, size, transfer switches, circuiting, fuel, alarms)?
  • What size UPS (uninterruptible power supply) makes sense (size, circuiting, maintenance, weight/structural issues, alarms, battery capacity)?
  • Who will be responsible for load balancing and how will we do it (circuit mapping, monitoring, power quality/conditioning, lighting)?
  • What the heck is an “EPO” button (emergency power off), and is it necessary (location, safety, applicable electrical codes, signage, alarms)?
  • How should we handle surge protection and equipment specific grounding requirements?
IV. Fire Protection
  • What are the advantages/disadvantages of the different fire protection systems (conventional or wet pipe sprinklers, pre-action or dry pipe, chemical suppression)?
  • How will we deal with system training and maintenance (false alarms, monitoring, batteries)?
  • Should we spend extra money on separate protection zones (above/under floor, space, false alarm cost implications)?
  • How will the base building alarms be coordinated with the data center’s?
V. Security
  • Who will control access to the data center and how will we do it?
  • Will some areas require higher levels of security?
  • How will we handle access for maintenance and cleaning?
  • What type of monitoring strategy is most appropriate (Web cams, CCTV, 24/7 guard monitoring, cost, maintenance)?
Good luck with all of your space planning projects. And if you haven’t had an opportunity to plan or manage a data center, ask your Magic 8-Ball when that might be in your future! Crane is a mechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property management services provider in the Southeast.

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