Tips on how to commission a data centre for successful operation
Tue 7 Sep 2021 | Patrick Donovan
Today data centres underpin many of the mission and business-critical digital services that we take for granted. Such services vary greatly from streaming platforms to healthcare and bio-medical research, while also supporting key segments such as enterprise, finance and retail. No matter their intended purpose, today’s data centres must perform with efficiency and resiliency, and while much of this responsibility falls on the operational staff once a facility is up and running, the burden can be eased if, from the outset, the data centre is commissioned for optimum performance.
Deployment strategy undoubtedly remains crucial, and a primary way to ensure successful operations is to conduct a commissioning exercise before a data centre is built. This process, which is often carried out by an external commissioning agent, reviews the physical design of a new facility and tests it as a holistic system. When done properly, it will anticipate potential difficulties, verify that the design meets the expected end-user objectives or industry standards, and will ensure that the build takes place according to the desired schedule and budget.
Communication and expertise are essential
For a commissioning exercise to be successful, however, it must avoid a number of pitfalls. This includes bringing the agent into the process at too late of a stage to be effective. Here, it’s important that the agent should be engaged weeks or months before the data centre is constructed, in order to overcome complications such as incomplete testing and poor communications between stakeholders.
It’s also important to align testing procedures with the specific technologies deployed, as all too frequently, procedures for testing legacy infrastructure may not be appropriate for use with newer more advanced equipment. By ensuring they utilise updated testing procedures consistent with current technology, agents can avoid confusion among personnel and mitigate malfunction or downtime once the facility is up and running.
As with any successful project management exercise, there must also be a clear identification and allocation of roles between the various stakeholders. Greater coordination and clear communication between all groups will prevent duplication, confusion, and delays.
Validation of the project plan is also important, especially in terms of work schedules and delivery dates, so that all partners are clear on what is expected of them and by when. Preparation remains critical, and greater validation can help to anticipate problems caused by differences of interpretation between siloed teams, or inconsistencies in timing.
With cooling a fundamental component of data centre design and operation, and with greater needs to maximise energy efficiency and keep operating expenses (opEx) or costs low, it is essential that the agent carry out a detailed analysis of the potential heat loads once a data centre environment is deployed and live.
Fortunately, many data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) tools and other software systems can quickly analyse a facility based on its design and hardware systems, and deliver accurate simulations that will ensure the facility is performing both adequately and efficiently.
Avoiding human error
The task of a commissioner can often be complex, as they must also identify any weak links in a design, which are likely to surface in real-world conditions. However, this more stringent approach will avoid having to diagnose problems at a later stage and here a simple checklist of anticipated inputs and outputs for critical components can help to quickly rectify any issues.
More often than not, the people responsible for designing a data centre and anticipating any potential events are not usually the same professionals responsible for its operation. Should an unexpected event such as equipment failure or outage be experienced, it’s crucial that a comprehensive list of emergency procedures, alongside other documentation, is kept up-to-date, as the technologies within a data centre may change over time.
Finally, every effort must be made to reduce human error during the commissioning process. It may be inevitable that as demands increase and deadlines loom, those fitting out a data centre may be expected to work long hours or consecutive days to meet the desired schedule.
Here, over burdening personnel at such a crucial stage can lead to simple mistakes with potentially costly problems such as equipment malfunction. Ensuring that you have access to adequate technical experts during commissioning and testing, while insisting that there is proper rotation of key personnel, will help to avoid potential human errors caused by fatigue.
Overall a commissioning agent’s role is a bit like that of a conductor of an orchestra: all of their hard work is done before the system goes live and is critical to delivering operational reliability. Ensuring proper coordination and communication between key stakeholders, alongside the strict adherence to a meticulously verified plan can ensure the success of a data centre deployment strategy.
For more information, Schneider Electric White Paper #149, “Ten Errors to Avoid When Commissioning a Data Centre”, can be downloaded here.