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Key Factors in Data Center Design

Overcrowded or obsolete data centers are at increased risk for poor performance, high energy costs, security risks, and expensive maintenance. With the ever-increasing volume of data that needs to be stored, building a new data centers is often the best solution.

Below are five key considerations when building a new data center environment:


1. Provide Room to Grow.


The amount of space required is one of the first major decisions in designing a new data center. Be sure to include room for expansion. Poor planning can interfere with efficiency and drive up operational costs. “Whatever data center architecture your company pursues, you will need enough floor space not only for the servers, server racks, and networking equipment, but also for the non-computing infrastructure components that support the computing equipment,” stated Vertiv, a builder of mission-critical infrastructure.With the meteoric increase in data use, any new data center should be designed for future expansion. Such scalability hinges on efficiency and repeatability, which explains the rising use of modular designs that can easily accommodate infrastructure build-outs. According to research from Vertiv and OMDIA, 93% of survey respondents said they plan to use prefabricated modular data center solutions as their default construction process. “Modular data centers are built from prefabricated modules that make up the building structure and systems such as the electrical, plumbing and cooling,” indicated Stephen Donohoe, vice president of global data center design for Equinix. “Options range from building an entire facility to a hybrid of select pre-built modules to a bundled solution incorporating office space and meeting rooms.”


2. Use Artificial Intelligence, Enjoy Real Improvements.


The worst days of COVID-19 pandemic-induced supply chain delays may be behind us, but software and hardware delays and shortages persist in data center construction, interfering with forecasting and driving up costs. These slowdowns can also impact speed to market for new facilities. Data centers are turning to AI and other digital technologies to improve the reliability of their supply chains. For example, Microsoft launched Microsoft Supply Chain Center, a platform that uses AI to improve the management of its supply chains, inventory, and forecasting. Amazon Web Services has followed suit with (AWS) Supply Chain, which focuses primarily on inventory management.


3. Be Ready to Take the Heat.


A major challenge in data centers is utilizing energy-efficient cooling systems to reduce energy consumption and mitigate excessive heat. Current challenges with data center design involve the implementation of  innovative cooling solutions to support increasing power density. As density increases, so too does the amount of heat generated by the IT racks, which must be quickly cooled to prevent damage to electrical components. To grasp the scale of the challenge, consider that legacy data centers have an average IT rack power density of 3–5 kW. “Based on IoT technologies and compute trends, new IT rack average density is expected to be 15–20 kW, and in a few cases, as high as 80–100 kW per rack,” says Parker Brunelle, director of business development for Gray AE. “The immediate issue with these higher densities is how to properly cool the racks. Options to remove this heat load include water-cooled solutions such as rear-door coolers that act as a radiator right at the IT rack, or even direct-to-chip cooling, which runs water through the IT equipment itself.”

"Options (with modular data centers) range from building an entire facility to a hybrid of select pre-built modules to a bundled solution incorporating office space and meeting rooms."
Stephen Donohoe, Vice President of Global Data Center Design


4. Pay Heed to Your PUE.


Power usage effectiveness (PUE) is a widely used tool for measuring a data center’s efficient use of power. In this tool, the data center’s total energy usage is divided by the IT equipment’s energy usage. An ideal PUE would be calculated at 1; the higher the figure, the less efficient the power usage. Consequently, cloud storage providers and their design partners are looking at ways to deploy sustainable energy designs to improve their PUE rating. Most end users for colocation data centers require a maximum operating PUE, so colocation data centers are heavily incentivized to improve this metric as much as possible, which includes sustainable  energy solutions. “Data centers are a huge user of power on any grid,” said Brunelle. “Most utility companies are incentivizing data centers to include some level of sustainable energy to reduce the impact on the grid.”


In addition, today’s data centers have the critical IT load powered by the critical utility supplied power source. However, for future designs, non-critical loads such as office spaces can be supplemented by a sustainable energy source to reduce the overall utility power usage and improve PUE.


5. Don’t Skimp on Security.


With more data comes the increased risk of security breaches. Physical security on site can consist of sophisticated 24/7/365 monitoring systems, controlled ingress and egress points, and surveillance systems. Use the latest technology solutions to enhance firewalls and intrusion detection systems to shut down any unauthorized network access. Protecting physical infrastructure with adequate system redundancy also plays an important role. “Implement redundancy in power, networking, and cooling systems to minimize downtime due to component failures,” said ProSource, which cleans and maintains data centers. These measures will prevent servers from overheating, maintain sufficient electrical supply in a power loss event, and ensure that one malfunctioning system can’t cripple the entire operation. “Choose the data center location wisely, considering factors like flood risk, seismic activity, and other natural disasters.” Moreover, develop recovery strategies and crisis management responses in the event that a disaster does strike.

"Data centers are a huge user of power on any grid," says Brunelle, director of business development for Gray AE. "Most utility companies are incentivizing data centers to include some level of sustainable energy to reduce the impact on the grid."

Be the Industry’s Pace Setter


The acceleration of demand volume and resultant tech innovation mean that data center design must always be changing. When most IT equipment only has an 18-month life expectancy due to obsolete technology, “the design of the infrastructure supporting the IT equipment will inherently change at a faster pace than other industries,” said Brunelle. “New IT technologies, refrigerant requirements, sustainability requirements from local utilities, and continued growth of connected devices in a data-driven world will continue to shape data center design now and in the future.”

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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