In our increasingly digital world, data centers have perhaps become the most important type of building out there. Various organizations use them to store, process, and distribute data. Since they play such a key role, data centers need to be designed in a specific way that prioritizes security and equipment safety.
So, what exactly constitutes a good data center design? Well, it depends, but this article explores some important considerations to make both before breaking ground and throughout the construction phase.
Good Designs Address Future Needs
It’s difficult to determine exactly what your storage needs will be in the future, but it’s important to plan for growth. Data centers are expensive, yet it’s typically way more cost-effective to build with scalability in mind rather than spending the minimum for your current needs.
So, before you begin the design process, consider what you need now and how that might change in the future. Then, determine how many additional servers racks are required. How will that affect your cooling capacity? How much floor space will it require? Are there any tradeoffs available — for example, could you spend extra for a more efficient HVAC system to cut down on additional square footage? Designing your data center to accommodate expansion from the beginning can be much cheaper than trying to renovate when you outgrow your current facility.
Cooling Is the No. 1 Priority
It’s no secret that heat is hardware’s biggest enemy. If the white space gets too hot, it could lead to catastrophic failures in IT equipment (ITE), which results in incredible losses. What’s more, replacing damaged equipment could cost millions.
That, of course, means you’ll have to dedicate a portion of your design to cooling systems and airflow considerations. Obviously, the type of cooling system you end up choosing will greatly depend on your budget, but you still need to have one. There are a few options to choose from as outlined below.
- Industrial air conditioners — energy-intensive but excellent at maintaining temperature.
- Water-cooled technologies — extremely efficient but may be better suited for facilities located near large bodies of water.
- Free cooling (outdoor air cooling) — only possible in cold regions but can be combined with other technologies in most regions.
- Localized cooling — units are placed near the equipment, which allows for more precision.
A poorly thought out airflow strategy puts equipment at risk and results in wasted money due to inefficient operation. So, what can be done?
First, it’s important to consider vent placement — the cool air intake and hot air exhaust vents should be located far from each other to ensure the center of the white space will cool faster and stay that way longer.
Remember to take each server rack into consideration as you plan your data center’s airflow. Using racks is usually the most convenient method because it improves airflow. But you could also add filler panels to make your strategy even more effective.
Use BIM in the Design Process
Building information modeling (BIM) is used in the design and construction phases. It follows the life cycle of the building, focuses on data and cooperation, and prioritizes efficiency. Naturally, all sorts of building projects stand to benefit from BIM, but data centers seem to be at the top of the list.
First of all, BIM allows for an accurate 3D visualization of a building. Using large databases, it can generate a surprisingly precise model that can be used during design and construction. That’s particularly helpful when planning the safest routes for cabling as well as the space requirements for equipment.
What’s more, BIM promotes efficient collaboration between various project participants. You no longer have to call or send emails — everyone involved in the project has access to the same up-to-date information/documents.
Whether you want to build a small data center with a few servers or a large facility with rows of racks, physical security is crucial. After all, ITE is expensive, and the data it contains is sensitive. At the very least, you need to know who’s coming and going and why. In other words, no unauthorized persons should be allowed on the premises.
That means your design may have to include some additional doors with authorized-entry locks — maybe even biometric scanners. Other types of security equipment, such as cameras, alarms, lockable server racks, etc., should also be installed.
A lot goes into designing a data center — you need to consider the wiring, cooling, electrical requirements, security, and more. It’s by no means an easy task — collecting all of the necessary data is both time-consuming and exhausting. Luckily, there are tools, like BIM, to help.