Having the latest in equipment and technology is important for business-critical data centers. Yet, simply having these things is only one step in optimizing performance. While technology plays an important role in ensuring efficiency and availability, owners are placing an increased emphasis on the architecture in which those technologies are deployed.
This sentiment that architecture trumps technology was recently featured as one of the trends expected to shape the data center landscape in 2016. Owners are no longer defaulting to traditional power architectures seen in Tier 3 and Tier 4 data centers. Instead, they are increasingly looking for expertise from their product and service providers which will help them establish and maintain non-standard architectures that are tailored to their requirements.
As architectures evolve, utilizing a proven approach for system planning, design verification, and comprehensive testing becomes paramount to achieving desired results regarding flexibility, availability, efficiency, and more. Commissioning is a process in which owners can do just that — ensuring their critical infrastructure meets their unique set of needs.
Verifying Architecture Meets Owner Requirements
In the data center world, commissioning activities can vary greatly from one commissioner to the next, yet most experts concur that when done right, it is a very beneficial quality assurance program. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) asserts that the focus of commissioning is “verifying and documenting that the facility and all of its systems and assemblies are planned, designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained to meet the needs of the owner.”
In most cases, the term commissioning refers to new data center systems; however, existing systems can also be commissioned or retro-commissioned to improve ongoing performance and efficiency. Whether the system to be commissioned is new or existing, the objective of commissioning activities always ties back to meeting the owner’s needs. As such, the owner is the best person to oversee the commissioning process. However, rarely do owners have the time or expertise to fill this role, which is where an experienced Commissioning Authority (CxA) can help.
Although they do not have legal authority to make decisions on behalf of the owner, a quality CxA provides the guidance and direction the owner needs to make informed decisions. In fact, when engaged in the planning or pre-design phase of a project, a CxA can help determine and document the owner’s project requirements (OPR). The OPR then becomes the keystone of the project, and the CxA ensures that all activities align with meeting these documented requirements. While the earlier the better, working with a CxA at any time during a project will help owners realize the most value from the process.
One of the biggest challenges for owners investing in the commissioning process is the lack of a consistent approach from commissioning firms. Some commissioners primarily provide administrative oversight, creating a pathway for paperwork to flow. Other commissioners adopt a hands-on approach, fully engaging in activities ranging from defining the owner’s needs in the pre-design phase, to conducting field tests and verifications, to overseeing the warranty review post occupancy.
To further complicate matters, a general misconception exists that assumes commissioning and acceptance testing are one in the same. In fact, acceptance testing is a separate testing requirement — often reviewed by the CxA — that ensures individual components or pieces of data center equipment are installed properly and will operate according to the manufacturer’s specifications and industry standards. While certainly a critical step, acceptance testing is just one component of a much more comprehensive commissioning process.
In the same vein, commissioning has also been confused with equipment startup. Once again, a CxA often witnesses the installation and startup of critical equipment and entire systems; but like acceptance testing, startup is merely another activity that is often overseen by commissioners.
In the midst of these discrepancies, how then can a data center owner determine the appropriate scope of commissioning activities for his or her project? To answer this question, it is prudent to consider the reasons why more and more data center owners are investing in commissioning.
The major impetus behind commissioning for data center systems and processes is the increasing complexity of the systems themselves. This complexity presents more opportunities for problems, especially when varied equipment and technologies must work together as an integrated system. At the same time, there is less and less tolerance for unplanned downtime. Due to the staggering cost of unplanned outages or failures, today’s data centers must operate reliably 100% of the time.
Appropriate commissioning activities, guided by an experienced CxA, can ensure uptime by identifying the culprits behind data center failures and outages. Nearly 70% of early equipment failures can be traced to design, installation, or startup deficiencies. Unnecessary outages are often the result of improper coordination and calibration of protective devices, wiring errors, design errors, or human error. Commissioning can help to detect and correct these problems before the failures or outages occur.
Benefits Of Commissioning
In addition to uptime, commissioning can deliver a wide range of benefits for data center owners. When best practices are followed and the appropriate commissioning activities are specified, the data center owner will be rewarded with systems and assemblies that meet specific, well-documented project requirements. These systems will also perform in accordance with the design intent. Commissioning helps to ensure that projects are not only successful, but that they are delivered on time and on budget, ultimately creating the highest possible level of owner satisfaction.
Adhering To Maintenance Best Practices With Oem Service
To continue reaping the benefits that a commissioned data center can provide, it’s important for data center managers to properly maintain systems and assemblies. And just like all data center equipment is not the same, neither are all service providers. The need for the right service provider cannot be emphasized enough, especially when it comes to tailoring data center architecture. Owners and managers should seek a service partner that has experience in their application and industry — one with knowledge of the varied types of equipment and technologies that are present in today’s complex data centers.
Not only do OEM field technicians have more and better training on both legacy and new technologies, they are also trained to understand the latest in manufacturer and industry standards, and adhere to them when delivering service solutions. Other benefits of working with the right OEM are as follows:
- Easy integration of systems into overall facility due to technician’s factory training
- Broader geographical footprint of technicians for standardized service across multiple sites
- Local presence of factory-trained technicians for better emergency service and faster response times
- Access to engineering specifications for timely equipment updates and other field changes
- Timely access to OEM parts for better mean time to repair (MTTR)
- Better equipment protection and less liability due to advanced training on safety and compliance
- Access to preventive maintenance and other service reports online
- Single-source accountability for all critical infrastructure needs
Whether commissioning a new data center or maintaining existing ones, owners and operators need to seek a certain level of expertise from both their commissioner and service partner if they want business-critical equipment to be integrated into a cohesive system that fully leverages existing technologies. Having all the right equipment is important, but working with highly trained industry experts is the best approach for ensuring optimum performance from data center architecture today and in the future.