IT, Facility Management Collaboration Helps Data Centers Mitigate Risks

By R. Stephen Spinazzola and David DiQuinzio  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Communication Between Facility Management And IT Increasingly Important In Data Center OperationsPt. 2: Effective Communication Between Facility Management, IT, Improves Bottom Line In Data CentersPt. 3: This PagePt. 4: Data Center Codes, Standards Give FM And IT Plenty To Talk About

The experiences of a specialized data communications provider offer another example of the benefits of effective communication between IT and facility management. This company has emerged as a leader in its industry by blending various technology platforms into an integrated network that offers unique data gathering and delivery capabilities to customers in niche markets. It has identified opportunities to grow market share and deepen its competitive advantages by expanding into smaller cities and locales throughout the United States that are underserved by its larger but less specialized peers. However, doing so poses risks. The profit margins on these services are lean, so the company cannot afford to build excessive capacity, install redundancies and buy unnecessary features. Meanwhile, small sites in remote locations pose construction challenges in the form of finding local contractors with the necessary skills and capabilities. They also pose operating headaches due to higher transportation costs and longer response times when problems arise and qualified technicians and engineers are needed on-site to solve them.

At the same time, the company's executives know that in order to maintain their leadership position, they must continuously apply new technologies that offer higher throughputs, faster processing, take up less space and use less energy as they become available. This includes high-density hardware such as blade servers. High-density hardware has prompted the data center industry as a whole to rethink how computer rooms are cooled. Specifically, the industry has moved towards thinking about cooling at the individual "slot within the rack" level, which is wholly different from the old method, when dumping cold air into raised floor plenums sufficed.

This company's remote sites do not have raised floors. Also, while it is by no means the first to use blade server technology, the other hardware alongside the blade servers in its sites differs significantly from that found in typical corporate data centers or server farms.

Faced with the need to select the best cooling system option, the company's facility management team reached out to IT and explained to them the need to study cooling options carefully. Once they understood the consequences of a poor cooling system choice deployed at dozens of small, remotely located sites, the IT managers agreed to support and participate in a "deep dive" into what physical arrangements of all of the IT hardware — not just the blade servers — would best suit their needs. They also explored what cooling solutions could best adapt to varying loads, climate conditions and build-out schedules. Throughout this effort, both facility management and IT discovered gaps in their understanding of one another's language. They overcame these gaps, in part, by using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling in 3-D to compare air flow and temperature patterns in and around the racks. After considering enclosed-hood, in-row units, refrigerated cabinets and other approaches, they settled on in-row units for their modularity and operational simplicity. They then presented the results of the evaluation to senior management for buy-in.

The company has proceeded with the expansion, and the first sites have been commissioned with only the sort of minor issues one would expect in the early stages of the program. Both facility management and IT have avoided the cost and hassle of dealing with problems they might have otherwise experienced had they not thoroughly considered their cooling system choice. During the course of working together, they discovered opportunities to improve the economics of the expansion effort, including pre-configuring the equipment racks at their main facility and shipping them to the sites where the in-row cooling units were installed and ready to line up with them. Meanwhile, the members of the IT group who focus on new technology R&D and applications research were able to turn over the cooling issues to their colleagues who handle implementation and thereby move on to the next set of challenges and issues. By doing so, they help the company stay ahead.

Too often, the discussion of facility management and IT "needing to work together" takes the form of a human resources issue. However, as these examples illustrate, there's more at stake — the bottom line.

R. Stephen Spinazzola, PE, LEED AP, is the vice president in the Baltimore office of RTKL Associates. He oversees the architecture and engineering firm's mission critical design group. He can be reached at sspinazzola@rtkl.com.

David DiQuinzio, PE, is a principal in the Baltimore office of the firm. He directs the firm's mission-critical commissioning group. He can be reached at ddiquinzio@rtkl.com.

RTKL is a worldwide architecture, engineering, planning and creative services organization. It is part of the ARCADIS global network. ARCADIS is an international company providing consultancy, design, engineering and management services in infrastructure, water, environment and buildings.

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  posted on 8/10/2012   Article Use Policy

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