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Adding cooling capacity to a data center, needless to say, isn’t something a facility manager should undertake lightly. Among the key factors to weigh: the risk of downtime and the alternatives to boosting cooling capacity.
When it comes to increasing cooling capacity in an existing data center, the margin for error is small. “You’re getting ready to do construction in an operating production data center,” says Wade. “There’s a lot of challenges here. One mistake could impact the business.”
Even before construction starts, there are other potential problems that could complicate the project. For example, the facility manager may have to bring the existing space up to code. There’s also the question of whether there is sufficient structural capacity and even physical space to accommodate additional cooling units.
For facility managers who decide to add cooling capacity, a simpler approach may be a better approach. For example, says Clemente, facility managers sometimes assume that they will need to use an in-row, rear-door or rack cooling system, when in fact adding traditional CRAC (computer-room air-conditioning) units may be enough to meet the needs of their space.
As part of the analysis that goes into solving problems with cooling capacity, it’s worthwhile to explore a wide range of alternatives. “In today’s world, let’s look at some of the options for expanding capacity without construction,” says Wade. One possibility is a self-contained data center — a pod — that can be added to the data center to provide extra capacity. Another option is moving some of the load off-site to a colocation or cloud facility.
When is the time to add capacity? “It’s sort of like driving your car,” says Clemente. “You don’t want to run out of gas. You don’t want to wait until the empty light is on. You want to have [capacity], even if you’re not using it.” Facility managers should keep in mind that it takes time to develop the design and have it constructed. And no one wants to have to rush through the planning process.
Still, planning for cooling capacity has to be grounded in reality. “It’s hard to know exactly what’s going to be required in the future,” says Clemente. “An IT manager may project a certain number and type of cabinets at a certain density, and that may come to pass.” But those plans often change, so that what is actually installed is different from what was forecast, because server technology has changed.
“If you have a clear sense of what’s coming, and you’re confident in that, then that's a good time to at least make your plans for moving ahead,” says Clemente.
Ideally, capacity planning should be part of an ongoing dialogue with IT, rather than a response to fears of a crisis. “You have to start talking to the IT people so you can start determining where the business thinks it’s going in the next five-to-ten years,” says Wade. Then you can start looking at variances from the plan and decide on the best facility response to those changes.
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