Traditionally the commissioning process is presented as finite, defining beginning and end milestones. In hyperscale data center construction, however, practicalities and customer culture dictate that the commissioning is instead a continuous process improvement undertaking.
Concerns With the Hyperscale Data Center Customer
Hyperscale data center projects don’t have an “end.” When construction on one campus facility ends, another one has already begun. Data center project mobilizations overlap, so systems that are turned over to the customer will — because of the nature of design redundancy and hardening — be impacted by the next data center. Coordination between the staff of turned-over (operational) spaces and those who are commissioning the next data center is critical.
Hyperscale data centers are built fast, necessitating a continuous on-site quality management team.
Major data center customers are building data center fleets. They are looking for fleet-focused stakeholders who are similarly focused on improving the fleet-build process.
A Quality Labyrinth
There are many overlapping stakeholder commitments in hyperscale data center projects.
There is a quality labyrinth — a weaving, of quality assurance and commissioning program specialists that affect a cascading flow as practical plans for inspection and testing are designed. Field teams are formed during preconstruction and launched into the field.
The foundational quality plan is produced by a dedicated team of general contractor (GC) quality programmers. Subs, in turn, produce programming that satisfies the strategy of the GC’s quality plan. Early in construction, the GC quality electrical and mechanical teams begin collaborating with their respective subcontractor divisional counterparts to begin continuous reviews of contractor work plans and develop inspection criteria. Hyperscale data centers often have a significant amount of owner-furnished, contractor-installed equipment. This adds another degree of quality coordination that must occur: factory witness testing, prefabrication inspection, site arrival, and transfer of materials to the installing trades.
While the GC quality team is developing approaches to ensure meeting various specifications (general and component-specific) through active collaboration with divisional subcontractor teams, the GC commissioning team is, likewise, engaging subcontractor teams that are dedicated to commissioning. Typical engagements involve collaborating on schedules and reviewing/verifying the integration of specifications to testing plans.
While the GC quality and commissioning teams are “weaving vertical” with their respective subcontractor quality and commissioning teams, there is a “horizontal weave” that is associated with aligning their trajectory.
The horizontal weave, QAQC to Cx, involves communicating irregularities and equipment issues that may affect operational commissioning testing. For example, if the design of the equipment was somehow changed or altered during the inspection process, functional performance testing (FPT) could be impacted. The commissioning team does not wait for a turnover from the quality team but, rather, proactively monitors the QAQC program. The horizontal weave is very fluid — QAQC and Cx teams are engaged in continuous dialogue.
The GC weaves described previously are replicated by the customer’s quality and commission teams who work with the independent, third-party inspection and commissioning teams who integrate with the GC inspection and commissioning teams.
The allusion of a weave is strongly impressed upon the reader. The commissioning of hyperscale data centers is not a patchwork quilt. Multiple programming initiatives interweave to create a filter, capturing project contraventions. As the weaves intercept, irregularities will coalesce.
Observing the cascading programs, this could be perceived as an intellectual log jam. Multiple programs are simultaneously competing for project management time. The weave, if properly developed and groomed, enables management to identify and filter constraints in the project before flaws are executed and compounded in the field.
The GC has a broad, elevated view of the commissioning process. The GC is the only on-site, contiguous commission representative and is therefore responsible for ensuring agendas are met and on par with those of the owner. The GC will be formulating commission plans and collaborating with subcontractor teams long before equipment arrives on-site.
Typical Data Center Commissioning Design
ASHRAE defines commissioning as a “quality-oriented process for achieving, evaluating, and documenting that the performance of buildings, systems, and assemblies meets defined objectives and criteria.”
The AABC Commissioning Group (ACG) promotes a philosophy that the commissioning authority is not the authority to encourage collaboration. This supports the ASHRAE’s guidelines. The CxA is the law enforcer, not the legislature of those laws — the CxA is not creating rules or writing specifications.
The philosophies are essential to supporting the requirements for a successful hyperscale data center project. All aspects of the design criteria must be verified, not a sampling. Every inspection, verification, test, retest, and functional performance must be documented. On-the-fly design changes by any party are not accepted.
OVERVIEW OF TYPICAL DATA CENTER COMMISSIONING LEVELS
- Level 0: Development of owner’s project requirement (OPR), design review
- Level 1: Factory acceptance/factory witness test (FWT)
- Level 2: Set in place
- Level 3: Pre-energization and energization, first-of-kind (FOK)/initial inspection
- Level 4: Functional performance testing (FPT)
- Level 5: Integrated system test (IST)
Key Programming Tools
The Commissioning Schedule
The commissioning programming weave is tight, and the population of inspection and commissioning stakeholders is huge. There is, however, a program tool that best clarifies the commissioning program: the commissioning schedule.
Early in the design process, the customer produces a production schedule based upon their product needs. This is provided to the GC who builds practical construction and commissioning schedules. Buildout of the commissioning schedule involves taking the practical knowledge of construction, energization, and testing that the GC has learned from previous fleet builds. A fleet-seasoned GC understands practical aspects with system commissioning. The GC ensures the commissioning schedule considers specialized concerns of the subs and adds finite steps to the schedule to carefully walk the commissioning teams through what may be potentially problematic areas.
A well-produced commissioning schedule will do the following.
- Ensure project specifications are crafted into the schedule.
- Provide smooth transition and orchestration from event to event. For example, site acceptance, set in place, pre-energization, energization, equipment startup, system testing, and integrated system testing.
- Ensure path to testing is mobilization friendly.
- Maintain a safe worksite with balanced staff loading and aligned activities.
- Provide alternate production pathways.
Ultimately, the forward progress is directed and tracked by the Commissioning Schedule.
Web-based Issue Tracking Tools
Efficient equipment issue resolution is key to program success. Sticking to specifications keeps the project on track and focused. Issues that do not address deviations from specification need to be quickly vetted to avoid bogging down the program.
Where the commissioning schedule mobilizes inspection and testing teams, the web-based issue tracking tooling provides actual inspection and testing checklists — a means to record and track project quality and equipment performance via issues.
The issue tracking program will promote the following user conventions.
- Inspection teams will write clearly understood, well-photographed, issues.
- Issues will be drafted to address deviations from specifications. To draft issues that are subjective in nature will not have a desirable impact on the deliverable.
- Real-time communication on issue resolution is essential to maintaining the tight schedules.
- Issues will be tightly controlled and closed ASAP. Dedicated “division” teams comprised of representatives from the third-party inspectors, subcontractors, and GCs are critical to corral and bring closure to issues. These division-focused issue resolution teams need to be small to avoid diluting accountability.