Data centre commissioning increasingly important to defeating digital downtime

Data centre commissioning increasingly important to defeating digital downtime

We often tend to focus on the specific technology and infrastructure that makes up a data centre, paying less attention to the design and build of the data centre itself. Martin Williamson, Head of Commissioning – Middle East, AESG, outlines what a comprehensive data centre commissioning process should look like and why it is important for ensuring the interrelationship of the building services are understood, tested and operationally ready at the time of handover, reducing or preventing failure during facility operation.

The events of the last 18 months have fuelled an unprecedented acceleration of digitalisation initiatives in the Middle East. Across the board spectrum of industry, organisations have undertaken technology transformations with the aim of streamlining processes, safeguarding continuity, or in many cases, doing so just to stay relevant.

At the centre of this data-driven digital world is the data centre, where advanced technologies such as IoT and data analytics, coupled with futuristic Machine Learning and AI, are driving the industry towards unparalleled levels of predicted growth – with the Middle East and Africa data centre market expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 10.38% by 2026.

Impact of outages magnified

With everything from communications and collaboration systems to mission critical databases and application servers housed in data centres, downtime can cripple business operations. In its 2020 global survey, the Uptime Institute found that the financial repercussions of data centre outages can be significant, with four in 10 power outages costing between US$100,000 and US$1 million, with one in six exceeding US$1 million. Moreover, the Institute found that over the past 25 years, electrical failures have accounted for 80% of all IT load issues in data centres, with 37% of significant outages in 2020 attributed to on-site power failures.

A case for commissioning

As with traditional construction projects, such undesired outcomes can be prevented through the utilisation of effective commissioning services. Commissioning is the process that reviews and tests the data centre’s physical infrastructure design as a holistic system to assure the highest levels of reliability. An effective commissioning process includes comprehensive functional performance testing and Integrated Systems Testing (IST) to ensure the resiliency and redundancy of a data centre is rigorously tested for both planned and unplanned events. High-quality commissioning ensures the interrelationship of the building services are understood, tested and operationally ready at the time of handover, reducing or preventing failure during the operation of the facility. Outlined below is what a comprehensive data centre commissioning process should look like.

A day one priority

To be truly effective, the commissioning exercise should be undertaken from the very onset i.e. during data centre design. Comprehensive review studies conducted at this phase ensure the expected performance outcomes can be achieved. These design reviews follow an iterative process and include assessing cooling loads, system redundancy and operator usability in addition to reviewing system operability, sequence of operations and interface procedures.

Comprehensive functional performance testing

Design reviews must then be followed by rigorous, quality-focused performance testing of the entire data centre facility, including heat load testing of the data halls where the performance of the building envelope is as important as the performance of the building services equipment in providing a temperature and humidity controlled indoor environment. Through this process, it’s important to bear in mind that despite the best planning efforts, there are always unforeseen issues that arise and these can be overcome by a quality-focused commissioning team to ensure the delivery programme is not affected, which is often quite tight for data centre projects.

IST testing

This next critical phase of the data centre commissioning exercise involves testing the complete data centre to ensure installed systems are configured to operate as an integrated facility. This is done with the intention of ensuring smooth integrated operations during peak demand conditions, with various scenarios such as forced failure being simulated. The overall IST demonstrates that the facility has met the overall performance requirements and is in full compliance with the design intent. Demonstrating the integrated performance, stability and fault tolerance of installed systems across a range of conditions reduces the likelihood of power outages or failures during the actual operational phase of the data centre.

Seamless handover

Oftentimes, when a data centre is physically complete, the design team, contractors and commissioning professionals disperse, taking with them the knowledge of the facility and systems accumulated up to that point. To realise the long-term benefits of commissioning, it is important to ensure that mechanisms are in place to transfer that knowledge. These include comprehensive Operation and Maintenance (O&M) manuals and an effective training regime to allow data centre administrators and facility operators to take effective control of the facility at handover. To successfully conclude a data centre commissioning undertaking, it is important that handover documentation is reviewed by the commissioning team to ensure correct information and documentation is provided to the facility management team as this then empowers them to correctly maintain and operate the data centre.

Any operator planning to construct a data centre should ensure commissioning is included. The median cost of commissioning in a study of new construction buildings in 2018 was found to be US$8.78/sqm, with a Return on Investment (RoI) of 4.2 years. This high-return service will enable operators a faster RoI with greater efficiency, redundancy and operability throughout the life cycle of the data centre facility.

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