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In Data Center Design, Experience and Foresight
are Critical to Total Availability
November 13, 2015
Written by Bob Kramlich

When engineers think about data center design, they consider the obvious things, such as redundant power and efficient cooling, as critical components to maintaining data center uptime. We have discovered that truly effective data center design requires us to think through every aspect of the physical layout and installation before we even pour the cement for the pad. The devil is truly in the details, because even the most minor mistake or miscalculation can create a ripple effect that has the potential to affect data center operations in a myriad of negative ways.

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For the seamless and continuous operation of a mission-critical data center environment, you have to anticipate even routine problems. Our team applies a “lessons learned” approach to data center design, working from plans and BIM drawings to consider real-world day-to-day challenges and address them before they create problems later on. For example, preventive maintenance and even emergency repairs require the facilities operation team to access some rather precarious places throughout the building. Making sure that critical systems and components are accessible for maintenance or emergency swap out is a matter of foresight and preplanning in design. No one wants to be the designer who landlocked a piece of equipment that has to be cut into pieces when the time comes to replace it.

Whether we are building out for a new tenant or retrofitting an existing location, we consider every aspect of the physical layout and building design to make sure everything runs smoothly. The T5 Facilities Management team collaborates closely with engineers and designers at all of our facilities, using our expertise to refine the layout and eliminate future problems. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Moving equipment in and out of the data center should be easy, which means you need to make sure you have clear access and the floor and ramps can handle equipment load. You don’t want to have to muscle a 2,000-pound server through a space that is too narrow. You also want to make sure you don’t crush the subfloor by moving heavy hardware in and out of the facility. We ensure that the building and operational layout is designed for correct flow in order to handle moving equipment in and out, that doors are placed in strategic locations for easy access and exit routing, and that we have written procedures utilizing a pre-mapped structural plan on how to distribute the weight of heavy equipment to protect the subfloor.
  2. When laying out the data center, we consider the physical layout for the equipment racks and the hardware. Are access panels going to be placed too close to the wall? Has the equipment manufacturer been consulted to address concerns related to front, back, and side access requirements? Are equipment cabinets designed and situated to make it easy to access hardware? We even work with manufacturers to modify cabinet design to relocate service panels for easier access once the equipment is installed.
  3. Lighting is a big consideration. There is nothing worse than trying to implement system upgrades or make critical repairs in the dark. We work with the design teams to make sure there is adequate lighting throughout the data center facilities, including outside the building. We design our data centers to eliminate poor lighting in areas where visibility is important to maintain systems, and we avoid dark spots outside the building that could compromise physical security
  4. Surprisingly, one of the most annoying and often overlooked design considerations is water access. We make sure that water is available for equipment that needs to be cleaned regularly, and that there is adequate drainage in place. Even bathroom placement is a consideration; you don’t want all the bathrooms located in the administration offices at the front of the building.

While some of these considerations may seem obvious, without careful attention to detail they often are overlooked. We know how to read prints, plans, and drawings in a way that translates what’s on paper into what’s installed in the building, so we know when making a small change now will prevent problems later on. That level of preparedness helps us maintain 100 percent uptime.

We were gratified to have data center experts from the Uptime Institute tour our T5@Kings Mountain facility earlier this month. At the end of the tour, they were asked to list what we did right in our data center design and where we needed improvement, as a sort of report card. The fact that these experts came back with 10 pages of accolades and only a handful of suggestions, mostly for non-critical design changes, was most gratifying. We clearly earned an A+ in design.

Providing total availability for our customers is a matter of anticipating what can go wrong, including how building design and facilities layout can impede operations. We are fortunate to have a team of highly experienced experts available to help guide facilities design; experts who have seen it all and can apply what they know to give our customers the best data center services available.