Data Center Growing Pains
Part 2: Data Center Renovation Versus Build New Considerations
Data Center Renovation Versus Build New Considerations
January 2011 - Data Centers
A starting point in the analysis is to project the organization's technology needs. How are the organization's operations likely to grow? What level of reliability does it need? What sort of technology will be required to support growth and enable the company to meet its goals?
Only once these assessments are made does it make sense to start looking at the attributes of the data center that will be needed down the road and the work required to get there. "Extrapolate this information to determine power, cooling and space needs," says Evanko. This information also will help determine the need for hours of fuel storage, redundant water sources and telecommunications connectivity, among other factors, Cronin says. Among the factors to evaluate:
1. The power and water infrastructure. Facility managers should look at both availability and cost.
2. The ceiling height. The proper ceiling height will depend on the cooling techniques employed, says Rich Hering, technical director with M&W Group. For instance, data centers using overhead delivery systems typically require at least 10-foot ceilings. Another consideration is whether the data center will have a raised floor or not.
3. Cooling. While it used to be feasible to shut down a data center's cooling system for relatively short periods of time — say, 30 minutes — that's no longer an option, given today's more powerful machines. "Now, an acceptable cooling outage may be seconds," he says. A cooling system that remains off for longer periods of time may cause the computer equipment to overheat and shut itself down.
4. Structural soundness. Depending on the IT hardware installed, a data center's floors may need to support up to 500 pounds per square inch, Hering says. If the current floor structure tops out at 100 pounds per square inch, the cost to increase its strength may be prohibitive.
5. Fire protection systems. Facility managers should understand how these might be involved in a renovation. For instance, if copper pipes are added in the computer room, they'll probably need to be soldered together at some points, says Johnston. When that's the case, you'll have to turn off the fire detection system, and rely on a fire watch while the work is going on. "Otherwise, you may have water going off in the computer room," he says.
6. Spare room. If one requirement of the renovation is to avoid down time, it probably will be necessary to have some space available during renovation to which equipment and applications can be moved while work is underway.
7. Future expansion room. It may seem like overkill to be thinking about future expansions before work on the current one even starts. However, given the pace at which technology advances, and many organizations' growth plans, it's important to think several steps ahead.
8. Potential code issues. If a renovation may have some sort of environmental impact, the facility manager will need to work with the regulators to address it. For instance, a data center expansion probably means that greater amounts of cooling water will be returned to the local treatment plant, which may not be equipped to manage it. A word of caution: working with the authorities can sometimes require making at least some of the renovation plans publicly available. This needs to be considered as the renovation planning is underway.
9. Taxes. Most renovations boost properties' assessed values. The higher tax bills need to be factored into the cost/benefit analysis.
10. Partial shutdowns. As more data centers have moved to server-based technology, the ability to turn off one machine without impacting others has decreased, Johnston says. That's because the systems are so interconnected; one server may house a company's programs, while another will hold the data, so that both need to be up and running at the same time. What's more, programs often are moved to different servers, making it difficult to pinpoint their location. "It gets complicated," Johnston says.
11. Arc flash hazard. In looking at the issue of shutting down parts of a data center, it's important to consider the potential of an arc flash hazard, says Robert McFarlane, principal with Shen Milsom & Wilke. This can happen when an electrician is working on a panel that's energized, and ends up "with a face full of molten copper as fire barrels out of the panel." In fact, most companies now prohibit employees from working on energized panels unless they're in arc flash hazard suits. However, when they are properly suited up, their gloves are so heavy that it becomes impossible to do the work that needs to be done. "A definite Catch-22," McFarlane says.
12. Costs and risks of an unplanned shutdown. If a renovation proceeds under the assumption that a shutdown won't be necessary, yet one inadvertently occurs, the consequences can be severe, McFarlane says. A sudden shutdown is much harder to recover from than a planned shutdown. Computers crash, data is lost and restoring functionality is difficult and time-consuming. You'll want to evaluate the implications, should the renovation hit a glitch, he says.
13. The end result. Along with comparing and contrasting the renovation and moving processes, it's also important to consider the end result, says McFarlane. If even the most successful renovation won't provide an organization with the data center it needs to move toward its goals, it probably makes more sense to build new.