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Data centre commissioning dos and don’ts

Wed 3 Apr 2019 | Fahad Al-Jabarti

The commissioning of data centres is a vital stage in the life cycle of any data centre project, whether it is a new facility or a retrofit. Fahad Jabarti, data centre engineering supervisor at Saudi Aramco, takes you through the dos and don’ts

In its simplest definition, the commissioning of the data centre is the verification of the data centre capability to meet its design intent. The commissioning basically is a series of tests performed on the data centre electrical, mechanical, automation and fire equipment and systems to ensure they are safe, reliable and efficient for the data centre operation.

The data centres’ commissioning has its greatest value from the benefits to the data centres’ owners by minimising the risks associated with any unplanned downtime which could occur when the data centre starts operating. It is definitely a check gate to ensure that the large investment of building a data centre is not wasted. In other words, you wouldn’t buy an expensive Mercedes before going on a test drive!


The planning of the commissioning starts early on during the project. It starts during the planning of the project when the cost and schedule are determined. This is because of the fact that it involves external organisations such as commissioning agents, or even extended support from the equipment manufacturer, and it also impacts the project schedule since there are several testing scenarios that have to be conducted on several weeks throughout the project timeframe.

I can divide the process of the data centres commissioning into 5 steps; these are the following. First is Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT), where the equipment is tested in the factory floor before getting shipped to the site. Next is Material Receiving and Inspection (MRI) when the equipment is constructed on site, Pre-Functional Testing (PFT) of the small components of the equipment, Functional Testing (FT) of the system as a whole, and finally Integrated System Testing (IST) which combines the systems together and test the interaction with the designed load through distributed loadbanks.

From my prospective, high reliable mission critical facilities require this complete commissioning program to ensure the investment is not wasted.

Commissioning data centres is not only about the process it follows, it is also about the people who plan it and execute it. This is why involving the right taskforce is crucial for a data centre project to succeed. This includes the project designer, construction contractor, data centre owners, equipment vendors and commissioning agency.

Nothing short of perfection

Getting commissioning right has never been more important. This comes from the fact that data centre owners tend to lower the risks of unplanned downtime of their facilities and avoid any unforeseen faults that could occur when data is processed through the facility.

The reason behind that is the high availability requirements that businesses mandate these days, where the data centre equipment must be tested extensively and stressed to their limits – to the level where the data centre owner knows how every backup system will react. This testing maintains the availability and protects the business, including what needs to be done in terms of failover to other sites.

All of these scenarios are important to be verified before putting facilities into operation where the restoration from failures sometimes takes days or even weeks, severally impacting the critical functions of the data centre. Therefore commissioning today is an insurance policy for the data centre organisation.

Coming up short

Data centre commissioning may fail for a number of reasons. The majority of these are mainly due to the poor planning of the commissioning, where one of the commissioning steps is overlooked.

“Businesses need more than raw data — they need entire workloads to be portable and immediately implemented throughout their IT infrastructure”

For example, if the UPS system – an integral part operation – is not tested at the factory floor before shipping, the major failure of the UPS system during Functional Testing will be very difficult to mitigate and will normally yield significant delays in the project.

That’s why the proper planning of the commissioning relies on detailing all the necessary steps for data centre equipment, from its manufacturing all the way to its integration with other equipment in operation. The issue can be resolved by engaging the Commissioning agent in the data centre early on, during the design stage.

The secret to success

Successful commissioning relies mainly on the human factor. Having the required resources, i.e. owner, contractor, vendors, independent commissioning agent, and the right technical people are two important factors.

Another human aspect that is equally important is the commitment and readiness of the team to work in a very stressful environment. The commissioning of the data centre, depending on the data centre size, are usually performed over prolonged working hours (12-14 hours a day) and weekends. This might result in a fatigue that can result in either a human error or even a shortcut that will compromise the success of the data centre project if the staff are not mentally and physically ready for it.

Another important factor is the clear script of the commissioning. It is the roadmap that leads the commissioning from stat to closure. The script should be a step-by-step procedure with a breakdown of the time, responsible party to execute and success criteria for each step. It also details the number and location of the loadbanks used to simulate the actual loads. The documentation of the script is must be completed by the commissioning agent to ensure independent evaluation of the project.

Join me at Data Centre World London

Fahad is presenting at Data Centre World taking place at ExCeL London March 12-13th. DCW and its colocated events attract over 20,000 IT industry professionals.

Experts featured:

Fahad Al-Jabarti

Head of Engineering,
Saudi Aramco


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