Data Center Design Services Do It All
July 14, 2006

By Staff
Appeared in Processor

Building a data center of any size from the ground up is not a project undertaken without a lot of planning and design. The question is where to go to find a company with the right kind of expertise and experience to help with all the different aspects of that type of project. How do you know the company you choose can do the job?

An obvious answer to both questions is to look at what the company has done in the past. Most established design firms will gladly give you references to previous customers. Finding one that closely matches your project in size and scope will help give you an idea of what to expect. It should also give you additional insight into things to watch out for.

Many of the design aspects of a data center haven’t changed much in the last 30 years. Features such as raised floors, 19-inch cabinets, backup power generators, and dedicated cooling still find their way into the newest designs. What’s different is the equipment being packed into those racks and the power and cooling requirements that go along with them.

“One of the biggest trends is companies wanting to build out data centers that take advantage of the latest high density blade servers to cram as much processing power into the smallest amount of space,” says Chris Johnston, chief engineer for critical facilities at Syska Hennessy.

Primary purpose for the facility will be a big part of many design alternatives. If your business depends on the data center being available 24/7, you’ll have to go with backup systems that can handle issues such as long power outages. That type of requirement will also drive you to redundant communication paths with different providers. All of these types of decisions will need to be made during the design phase.

Factors To Consider
Many key design decisions are often interlinked in ways that some companies hadn’t considered. Weight can become a critical factor if you choose to pack as many high density blade servers as possible into a single rack. Raised flooring will have to be chosen that can support a higher number of pounds per square foot. Cooling systems will need to support not only a specific level of heat dissipation but also a certain level of airflow.

Backup power systems will have to provide continuous power to key system components such as the cooling system to avoid long outages caused by a system restart. Some companies are choosing to do their own power generation as one answer to the power reliability question. Others are opting for multistage backup systems with a combination of batteries (UPS) and generators.

“We utilize an extensive amount of complex modeling incorporating techniques such as computational fluid dynamics to get an accurate picture of the airflow inside of a cabinet,” says Peter Gross, CEO of EYP Mission Critical Facilities. “We don’t have the luxury of being wrong when it comes to designing a data center for our clients. If we don’t get it right before the construction begins, it puts the entire project at risk,” says Gross.

Building a data center is not that different from any other building project. Typical phases include design, construction, acceptance/occupancy, operations, and maintenance. While you could go to most any architectural and engineering firm for the design phase, you’ll want to find out if they’ve ever designed a similar facility. A better route would be to go with any one of a number of companies that specializes in data center design.

A second consideration comes from how involved you plan to be with the actual project management. Some companies choose to contract out that phase while others take more of a hands-on approach. If you do choose to be hands-on, you’ll want to make sure you know what you’re getting into.

Some firms offer a complete turnkey solution from design through construction and acceptance. This does give you the advantage of only a single vendor to deal with but also raises the specter of conflict of interest. Either way you’ll want to speak with previous customers and have a good list of questions to probe for any issues that could save you grief along the way.

Syska Hennessy Group

While some may not like the idea of handing over an entire project from design to construction to a single company, Syska Hennessy believes that capability gives it an edge over its competition. It specializes in designing facilities for highly reliable, transaction-based, completely fault-tolerant operations. From its perspective it offers a customer a “one-stop shop” for getting a project completed.

Syska Hennessy has been around for 78 years and has 600 employees spread across its 16 operating locations. Its engineers are frequent speakers at industry conferences and contributors of articles in trade journals. Its long track record and experienced staff translate to successful projects for its customers.

One of the ways that Syska Hennessy helps its customers determine the critical design factors is to use what it calls a critical facilities balance sheet. This allows the customer to assign a criticality level to each of 11 different areas including:

Syska Hennessy

Pricing by the hour for consulting services, by the project or as a percentage of total cost

Offers everything from the design stage through to building and acceptance; has a large geographical footprint to provide the level of onsite support without incurring additional travel costs

  • Power
  • HVAC
  • Fire and Life Safety
  • Security
  • IT Infrastructure
  • Commissioning and Testing
  • Operations
  • Maintenance
  • Operations and Maintenance Procedures
  • Controls and Monitoring
  • Disaster Preparedness

One of the realities that many companies are faced with today is the fact that much of the surplus capacity of data centers built for either Y2K or during the dot-com era has been used up. All that’s available now are facilities that are either unsuitable or simply inadequate to meet most needs. Syska Hennessy understands the need of its customers for increased server capacity in every cabinet. It has the experience to deliver on those requirements.