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What Does It Take to Commission a New Server Room or Data Centre?

Published by Lee Kelly on 21 October 2020

Designing a new data centre facility and commissioning it to ensure optimal system performance is a massive undertaking. There are a huge number of technical components, specifications, and testing requirements to handle. And, each step of the process from neatly organising cables to conducting integrated systems testing requires near-flawless attention to detail.

When meticulously executed, however, you can count on a reliable data centre and better system performance throughout the facility's lifecycle. Let’s dive into what it takes to make this happen.

Designing a reliable data centre – what’s required?

Whether your organisation needs a small, one-room setup or a large data centre, the fundamental requirements are the same. A data centre needs the appropriate amount of space, a system to regulate the environment, adequate security, a reliable power supply, fire suppression, and networking equipment, in addition to the servers.

Critical Power Supplies - Isometric View of an Data Centre with backup generators, UPS and Cooling with offices.

Space and equipment requirements

The first consideration is the space itself. Whether you’re building a small scale network closet or a multi-room data centre, the space has to be large enough to fit all of your server racks and cabinets, power supply systems as well as your cooling technologies. It should also allow for plenty of air circulation to prevent overheating and moisture build-up. You’ll also want to consider room for scaling – do you have enough space to add more racks as your needs grow?

Here are some of the features and spatial specifications that you’d want in a server room or data centre:

  • High ceilings, ideally, they should be at least nine feet or 2.7 metres
  • No windows and, if possible, no external walls, as these features make security more difficult
  • Raised ceilings, which allow for air ducts, heat exhausts, and other equipment
  • Raised floors, which allow you to run cables and install cable management solutions more efficiently
  • Durable flooring that can withstand the weight of server racks and equipment
  • Ample clearance between computer racks, there should be at least one metre
  • Proper grounding and seismic bracing for all racks

Climate control

The environment is also critical. It’s important to maintain stable temperatures – high temperatures increase the risk of equipment failure and fire. The ideal temperature for a server room is 22 degrees Celsius.

Servers also require low levels of humidity, so you’ll need humidity control. Air quality is also important, as dust and other particles floating through the air can accumulate on computer equipment, which will eventually reduce your hardware reliability and lifespan.

To ensure an optimal climate, consider the following:

  • Cooling equipment with variable speed fans
  • Proper rack arrangement – they should be arranged in a hot-aisle, cool-aisle configuration
  • Redundant cooling systems that are connected to redundant power supplies to ensure uninterrupted temperature control
  • Remote monitoring for fire, smoke, water, and humidity so you can identify and react to an unwanted change

Critical Power Supplies - Data Centre Cooling Rack

Data centre security

A server room is worth far more than the IT hardware and networking equipment it contains. It’s the centre of all your data, including sensitive data that your organisation may have a legal responsibility to protect.

To keep the space secure, consider using the following:

  • Limited access – use biometric access controls or security controls to ensure unauthorized persons can’t enter
  • Security monitoring for the data centre and surrounding areas using CCTV cameras
  • Zoned security for different rooms for large data centres

Power supply and effective power distribution

You'll need a power supply system including an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) and generators to ensure there's an instant backup power supply in the event of a blackout, brownout, or other power disruption. A power distribution unit will ensure that power is distributed in a way that enhances performance and increases energy-efficiency.

Fire suppression

Fire is always a risk with data centres because of the heat generated by servers. At Critical Power Supplies, we can install a pneumatically actuated fire suppression system (PAFSS). If a fire occurs, a PAFSS system will detect the fire source and extinguish it quickly. Rapid fire protection helps to minimise the potential for damage and enable faster recovery. See our rack mounted solutions.

Critical Power Supplies - Fire Suppression Racks Placed at the top.

Networking equipment

All of your networking equipment will need to be configured and housed in secure equipment racks. The networking equipment includes cabling, core routers, and switches.

Commissioning the data centre for better performance

When designing a new server room or data centre, the overarching goal is to ensure a trouble-free working life. Your power systems should be configured in a way that will minimise downtime, reduce the data centre’s environmental impact, and improve efficiency. All the various systems – cooling, power, security, fire suppression, and management – should be implemented in a way that ensures they can work together seamlessly, achieving a holistic system that guarantees the highest possible levels of reliability.

Data centre commissioning is the process of bringing all these elements together and configuring them for optimal performance. It involves a series of tests that happen before the data centre can officially begin operating. The idea is to identify and eliminate as many existing single points of failure as possible. Planning for data centre commissioning begins weeks or even months before the infrastructure is delivered and installed.

What happens if you skip or shorten the commissioning process?

Commissioning involves technical experts evaluating all of the IT equipment and systems within the data centre. Because the data centre shouldn't operate until commissioning is done, there’s a lot of pressure to rush the process or even to skip it – and the costs involved – altogether.

This is a mistake that can lead to project failure. Without commissioning, the data centre manager won’t have a baseline for performance, they won’t understand the facility’s ability to handle intended critical loads, nor will they know if all the components of the data centre facility operate as they’re supposed to.

The reality is, countless factors can lead to failure – ranging from a flawed piece of equipment to a lack of owner training. Commissioning is where an expert team runs and tests every technical detail to determine if the data centre will be a success, as well as what needs to be done to prevent an equipment failure or a design flaw from creating a problem.

An overview of the commissioning process

Once the physical infrastructure has been assembled and installed during the implementation phase, commissioning can begin. After that, the data centre staff are formally trained to ensure they have all the information necessary for operating the data centre.

During all the equipment and systems testing, information is compiled for the trending reports and systems operations manuals. These documents are created for the data centre operations team, so they have resources to help with operations, troubleshooting, and incident resolution once the data centre is live. These documents can include:

  • Trending performance data
  • Explanations of root causes of future failures
  • Support data for risk assessment analysis
  • Prediction of expected results from system events
  • Training materials for on-site staff such as instructional videos

The commissioning process also entails several phases of site preparation and testing.

Pre-functional testing – During this step, the commissioning technician will ensure that all equipment is installed correctly, that it meets compliance requirements, and that it lives up to the standards of the data centre owner. Start-up tests are conducted for all equipment to ensure it functions, and the commissioning team will do a check of the entire space, checking for leaks, ensuring ducts are airtight, and checking fans, sensors, and other components. This phase includes tests for:

  • Power – integrated power system, UPS, generators, and system grounding
  • Cooling – chillers, air flow, cooling tower, piping, and the heat exchanger
  • Fire suppression – sprinkler system, smoke detection, automatic alarms, pumps and gauges
  • Security – CCTV cameras, electronic locking system, biometric or card access control system
  • Infrastructure monitoring – sensors for humidity, motion detection, and temperature, the power monitoring system, and building management system

Functional performance testing – At this point, all the equipment is set up, and systems have been checked. Now the commissioning team can run every piece of equipment through a full cycle. The purpose here is to test the performance of all data centre equipment in every possible setting. Then, the systems can be amended as necessary to improve efficiency and ensure the facility will run according to standards.

Integrated systems testing – This is the final testing phase where you ensure the data centre works holistically and is ready to offer optimal uptime and reliability. The commissioning team will test the backup power systems to ensure that the generators and uninterrupted power supply turn on, and that there’s a seamless transition to backup cooling.

Benefit from leading-edge installation and commissioning

At Critical Power Supplies, we can create a leading-edge installation that will ensure greater availability, security, and efficiency. Partner with the UK’s leading independent power protection installer and get the peace of mind that comes with working with a team of experts who can deftly manage every stage of your project. We can cover all of the elements from configuration to testing, giving you a fully managed space that’s ready to populate with your IT hardware. Whether you’re building a network closet or a large, scalable data centre, our team will ensure the most effective system design for your specific requirements.

Ready to learn more about how we can make your project successful? Call us any time on 0800 978 8988. We'd love to share our server room commissioning template and data centre checklist with you and answer any questions you may have. Or you can drop our experts an email.