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Building Operating Management

Expanding Data Center Allows for Closer Control

There are two fundamental ways to increase on-site capacity: power density or square footage. Typically, owners and managers consider expanding the physical capacity of a data center when they can no longer increase power density to support the business operations.

As a prerequisite for expansion, the organization must have the appropriate management processes, procedures and oversight in place to enable a seamless expansion of critical infrastructure while maintaining operations and protecting data throughout the project. Before the project begins, the entire process must be documented, including a rigorous quality review procedure for data center operators to execute transitions without outages.

Companies that have successfully completed an on-site expansion in the past may be able to leverage existing procedures for a new project, but they typically lack adequate internal resources to manage it. As a result, they must turn to experts when they are expanding a live data center. In addition to managing the risks to data and operations, the owner and project team must manage real safety risks to operating personnel during "hot" work.

There are several advantages to existing site expansion. The biggest is maintaining control over mission-critical assets, especially their performance and security. Existing site expansion also avoids the inefficiencies and risks of compartmentalizing applications and outsourcing services. The organization gains economies of scale by leveraging existing real estate and operational resources, including staff and management. Growing in place also avoids the costs associated with decentralizing operations.

The major business risk associated with existing site expansion is the tendency to over-project demand and overbuild the facility. There are several reasons for this. A build-out typically requires 12 to 18 months to complete. In anticipation of this lengthy build process, an organization may try to project demand three or more years into the future. However, the longer-term the business forecast, the more likely it is to be inaccurate. Even companies that are very skilled at demand management can experience spikes, for example, due to a new product with an unexpectedly high demand. So there is a tendency to overbuild "just in case" unforeseen circumstances arise.

The carpenter's mantra, "measure twice, cut once," applies to all data center expansions, but particularly when considering an on-site physical expansion. Before moving ahead with an expansion, benchmark the existing data center's baseline performance to identify stranded capacity and opportunities to improve the facility's operating efficiency. For example, some owners have gained 30 percent or more capacity by implementing cost-effective changes in the management of air flow. If an expansion is warranted, the baseline performance benchmark will be a means of assessing the effectiveness of the project.

Modular Expansion: Just in Time

Modular expansion is a cost-effective solution to gain the benefits of on-site expansion while avoiding the risk of overbuilding. Modular construction is based on the same concept as "just-in-time" manufacturing or inventory management, and it offers the same business advantages.

Because a modular expansion can be completed in as little as four months, it can be more closely aligned with business cycles and changing demand. This approach preserves capital and reduces operating costs, including energy, because the owner builds only what is required to meet a short-term business forecast. Underutilized assets do not tie up valuable resources while the demand cycle is catching up. Moreover, the compressed schedule decreases time to market, which can be a strategic competitive advantage for the owner.

For example, say an organization has a long-term capital plan for a 40MW build-out of a 100-acre footprint. The first expansion module might be 1MW to 10MW, with future modules planned at intervals that align with the forecast demand curve but that can be adjusted to meet actual demand. Proven modular solutions and flexible capital/ownership structures can free up the capital an organization would otherwise tie up in data center expansions.

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  posted on 11/16/2011   Article Use Policy

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