Flue foresight: Stop design problems at the source

Flue foresight: Stop design problems at the source

Dean Moffatt, Technical Sector Expert, Schiedel, describes how making an often-overlooked piece of data centre build a priority can help design out risk from a project, right from the beginning. 

The need for more data centres could not be more apparent. From 2015 to 2021, data centre workloads increased by 260% – a trend that will almost certainly continue, if not increase further. This increase in workloads is driving demand for new data centres in key markets across the world, with over 25 million square feet of new data centre capacity coming online in 2022.

But, even with increased development in the sector, this may not be enough. According to Savills, planned data centre development across Europe needs to more than double by 2025 to keep pace with new users, restating the need for effective project management with minimal delays. However, many are encouraging delays by ignoring a vital part of the build – the flue.

The flue has a simple role but one that is vital to reducing downtime for a data centre. Flue’s help expel gases and hot air from a generator’s combustion chamber to the open air outside. This may sound simple, but if they were to fail there is a high chance that the on-site power would overheat and fail. This leads to extended downtime, which is incredibly costly for a data centre. Research has shown the cost incurred by major data centre outages continues to rise, with some estimates placing the figure at £4,500 per minute, although this is based on data from 2019 so it is safe to predict that the figure has risen substantially since then.

Additionally, Tier IV classification can only be achieved when a facility can prove a sufficient level of fault tolerance. Having a developed flue system is a crucial part of demonstrating that concept, with the flue allowing backup generators to run smoothly in the event of a mains outage. Flues are a vital part of a successful data centre, which is why making them an important part of the planning process is key to avoiding potential problems down the line.

It’s all about timing. If the incorrect product is specified or installed at the wrong point, it will likely cause a chain reaction effect of issues. Having to deal with these problems can potentially push back commissioning and therefore could lead to more setbacks including a late handover to the owner or operator. This could damage the reputation of businesses in the sector that often win work purely based on reputation alone.  

Guidance is key

A critical error is often made in the design process for data centre builds – that being that the flue is often left until the end of the project. This can be costly for a data centre down the line. This is why Schiedel is highlighting the importance of incorporating it into the building’s ‘critical path’. If companies engage a flue specialist at the earliest point, it means potential problems that could occur could be dealt with before they even happen. Adhering to the critical path is a small bit of the process, but when you consider that a data centre project typically runs into the millions, with individual parts that cost hundreds and thousands, prioritising the flue is really a small and easy thing to do.

Problems often arise from a lack of forward planning. This can include cabling interfering with where the flue needs to be installed, which of course leads to increased costs and delayed construction. Issues can also appear if the flue is incorrectly specified or isn’t up to the task. Schiedel’s approach to this means that there is a joint design process between an OEM specialist and a contractor. This means that the flue will be the right design for the job, thanks to the sufficient testing that is completed ahead of installation. This is becoming even more important as more and more data centres move closer to urban areas to lower latency.

Research suggests that outages are getting longer, meaning that generators are needing to be operational for greater periods. If the systems installed aren’t up to the task, then the flues will spread harmful fumes and create unnecessary noise that could break local regulations. This is something that businesses cannot stand for any business taking ownership of a new data centre.

Choosing Schieldel’s critical path approach towards flues provides reassurance to both contractors and owners. It means that if the primary power source fails, there is a robust flue system that can support any backup efforts. By making flues a priority, problems can be designed out of data centre projects permanently whilst allowing contractors to be paid on time, free up time for other projects necessary to meet development targets and provide owners and operators with a more resilient facility.

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