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Virtual Reality: A new perspective for data centre design

Virtual Reality: A new perspective for data centre design

Industry ExpertOperations & SystemsSoftware

Jean Clavero, Mechanical Critical Systems Engineer, Cundall, shares how immersive experiences are becoming an established part of the next wave in data centre design, and how the technology is supporting sustainable operations.  

Jean Clavero, Mechanical Critical Systems Engineer, Cundall

Whilst the last 20 years of technological innovation have focused on the material, we’re on the brink of taking the next steps into a new frontier: Virtual Reality (VR) and Spatial Computing. The release of the Apple Vision Pro looks to do what ChatGPT did for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and bring a niche technology into the hands of the consumer. But much like AI, VR has already been used by businesses to bring about innovation in the field. In fact, there are some in the construction industry that have begun to embrace this innovation.

The world of construction is marked by change. By its very nature, it involves designing and building structures that bring about physical change to the landscape. Data centre design, in particular, is subject to change. These structures are at the forefront of cooling technology innovation and their construction involves a particularly complex multi-disciplinary coordination across parties. To do this seamlessly requires those operating in the industry to embrace new technologies early and frequently. 

The introduction of VR into the field has proven to be game-changing, not least of all in the design and coordination of data centre construction projects. By rendering Building Information Modelling (BIM) data in VR, teams across disciplines can collaborate efficiently whilst enjoying a more user-friendly experience. With BIM in VR, teams can virtually walk through their data centre and inspect it months before construction even begins. For example, the Resolve app designed for wireless VR headsets and laptops have enabled Cundall to use the technology on new projects to great success.

A new dimension for data centres

Virtual reality technology is revolutionising how data centres are designed. Unlike traditional 3D reviews, VR provides an immersive rendering of design models generated through the Autodesk ecosystem. This allows stakeholders to visualise and experience the intricacies of data centre designs, allowing them to identify potential issues in the early stages of design.

These issues may include clashes between services from different disciplines or limited space to access equipment for maintenance and replacement. By identifying these issues early on, a well-coordinated design phase can prevent problems during construction, commissioning and operation, such as change orders, added material costs and project delays. In the case of data centres, the virtual assessment of operating procedures can minimise the risk of extended downtime or maintenance issues once the facility is operational.

In addition, using VR technology can help in using materials more effectively and promoting sustainability. Designers can optimise layouts to minimise material wastage, select eco-friendly materials and apply energy-efficient solutions. Additionally, the travel required to co-ordinate and review designs together is minimised if everyone can remotely inspect models at. This aligns with current environmental objectives and reduces the carbon footprint of data centre operations. Ultimately, leading to substantial time and cost savings for the client.

Looking at the benefits

Data centre projects can benefit greatly from using Virtual Reality software. The VR app can handle large, complex models and operate efficiently on various computers, making it an essential tool for such projects. Past attempts at using VR required time consuming model work, messy cable setups and complex software, but now the technology works on wireless VR headsets – even without a PC – and with the most complex data centre models. This feature ensures the immediate functionality of massive files without added work, which is crucial when considering the scale of data implementation and accessibility of the technology across users with varying degrees of experience with VR.

One of the most significant advantages of using VR technology is its user-friendly interface, which helps various disciplines involved in data centre design work together seamlessly and efficiently. With VR, teams can easily navigate the complexities of electrical systems, mechanical pipework, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning), and other crucial components. Even individuals who don’t spend most of their time working in BIM can easily put on a VR headset and begin walking through a data centre model, virtually. This feature is essential in meeting the unique requirements of data centre design, where efficient multi-disciplinary coordination is critical.

VR’s intuitive controls streamline navigation, allowing users to traverse the design model effortlessly, measure distances and flag issues for consideration by other disciplines. It also enables diverse expertise to come together and interface complex systems, ensuring a cohesive and well-coordinated design approach.

Moreover, VR enables the client to play an integral part in the review process during the design phase. Recent projects led by Cundall included the client and building operator in virtual discussions regularly. Collaboration is easier if the VR app provides a seamless transition between virtual headsets and desktop apps. This feature is available in Resolve, making VR accessible to anyone, regardless of their technical background – empowering both novices and experts to participate actively in design co-ordination.

Virtual Reality, a practical success

In a recent project, the Critical Systems team at Cundall transformed the data centre design review process both internally and with colleagues outside of the company. The project utilised 26 VR headsets with the Resolve app for VR reviews across four companies and were able to uncover 559 issues. This just shows how the innovative approach enabled all stakeholders a new perspective into the reviewing of the final design and presented a level of confidence that didn’t previously exist when using traditional software or 2D drawings.  

The future of data centre design

As technology continues to advance, it is becoming increasingly influential in the construction industry. VR is already proving to be an indispensable tool for designing and coordinating data centre construction. Its ability to provide immersive experiences you can’t replicate in the real-world – for instance, the ability to fly – have led to benefits facilitating communication and streamlining the review processes. Whilst history has positioned Virtual Reality as the future of the entertainment industry, the construction sector proves it can be used today in its fullest. This new frontier should be embraced as the digital tool may just give your team a new perspective.

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