Data Center Design: 6 Important Tips to Consider
Designing a data center is a huge task that requires a lot of time, effort, and expense. When done properly, a data center facility can house servers and other IT equipment for decades into the future. Whether planning out a modest facility for a specific company, or a massive, million-plus square foot facility for cloud technologies, doing everything properly is critical. The tips listed here will give you a great place to start in your data center design.
Leave Room for Growth
Investing in a data center is going to be extremely costly. Whether retrofitting an existing facility or creating a new one, the expense is going to be significant. This is why many businesses create a data center design that meets their current needs, but don’t invest in the future. Consider the following points when looking at the needs your company will have down the road:
- Floorspace – How many square feet of floorspace do you need today? Do you expect this to grow over time? It is much less expensive to build what you need now than to try to perform a renovation in a few years.
- Power Requirements – The electrical needs of a data center can be quite massive. Take time to plan out the needs you have today, and the potential requirements you will have in the future.
- Cooling Requirements – As you add more and more hardware into a data center, the heat produced will need to be eliminated. New cooling units are extremely costly, so investing in the right ones up front is essential.
- Server Space – Choosing the right server racks now will allow you to house your equipment properly while leaving space for growth as well. Many new data centers have rows of empty racks that help to facilitate proper airflow until they are filled.
Plan for the Support Team
When planning a data center design, most of the effort is going to be focused on the actual areas where the servers and other equipment are kept. Another important aspect, however, is going to be where the support team must work from. In most cases, this is going to be an office area just outside the data center itself.
This team must use advanced monitoring equipment to see what is going on in the data center at all times. In most cases, the staff will include both IT professionals who will support the hardware and software within the data center, and other personnel who will support the cooling systems, humidity levels, wiring, physical server racks, and more. Having a place for them to work will allow for rapid responses to outages and easy access for ongoing maintenance and upgrades.
Optimize Data Center Cooling
Keeping your equipment operating at appropriate temperatures is one of the most important things one must consider when designing a data center. If your facility gets too hot, it will cause potentially catastrophic failures in hardware, which could cost millions to replace. For this reason, you should spend a significant portion of your time on planning the cooling and airflow systems for your data center.
The first thing to look at will be what type of air-cooling system should be used. There are quite a few options available, and the one you choose will depend on things like budget, region of the world, electricity cost, and more. These are some of the most popular types of cooling systems available today.
- Traditional Air Conditioning – Industrial air conditioners create reliably chill air and bring it where it needs to go. While energy-intensive, air conditioning units will be able to keep a data center at the precise temperature you need.
- Water Cooling Units – Water cooling is a lot more efficient than many other methods. People often build data centers near the ocean or other large bodies of water specifically so this type of cooling is an option.
- Outdoor Air Cooling – In regions where the temperature outdoors is cold for much of the year it is possible to use outdoor air for cooling a data center.
- Localized Cooling – This is an option where a cooling unit (or multiple units) is placed in each ‘warm row’ of the data center so the air doesn’t have to be transported through ducting, which can make it more efficient. It also allows for precision cooling based on the needs of your equipment.
Smart Data Center Airflow Management
The cooling is just the first step in keeping the temperature where it needs to be in a data center. The next step is airflow. Bringing the cool air where it needs to be, and getting rid of the heated air, is extremely important. Not only is this critical for temperature control, but also for keeping the cooling costs as low as possible.
A smart airflow plan can reduce your cooling expenses by as much as 40% in many cases. There are multiple steps to planning out your airflow strategy, including:
- Main Intake & Exhaust – Planning where the cool air will come in and where the warm air will exit is critical. Learn about a concept called hot aisle/cold aisle to get the best results in this area.
- Server Rack Airflow – Having proper airflow within each server rack is essential. Using filler panels (also called blanking panels), for example, will make planning your strategy more effective.
- Segmented Aisles – If using the hot aisle/cold aisle strategy, it is important to use physical barriers above and around each aisle to direct the air where it belongs.
Don’t Neglect Physical Security
Data centers contain a lot of very expensive equipment. On top of that, most facilities will have important, or even sensitive, data flowing in and out all the time. Keeping all of this safe is one of the most important reasons why data centers are built. With this in mind, it is critical to consider physical security when designing a new facility.
Even if designing a modest data center with no sensitive information, it is still important to ensure only authorized people are coming and going. This is because it is necessary to know who is working on machines, and why. On top of that, every time someone comes into the data center, they are bringing with them dust and other contaminants that should be kept to a minimum, which is why only authorized individuals should enter.
For large facilities, or those that contain highly sensitive data, physical security becomes even more important. Many large-scale data centers will have physical barriers preventing unauthorized access to the property. Once on the property, there are locked doors with security guards required to get into the building itself. Finally, to get into the actual data center, there are more secured doors. In most cases, these doors come with biometric scanners to ensure only approved individuals can gain access.
Finally, investing in enclosed server racks also helps in long term data center physical security. These server racks help to prevent both theft and potential damage, as they are typically lockable. Data center managers can control who truly has access to the servers.
Focus on Proper Wiring from the Beginning
A smart wiring strategy will help to reduce outages, increase the speed troubleshooting can occur, make adding new equipment easier, and much more. Without a good wiring plan in place, a data center can become a huge mess very quickly.
There are two main areas where a good cable management plan will be necessary. First, within the server racks. Dozens, or even hundreds, of cables have to come in and out of server racks, so it is important to ensure they are run properly to avoid tangles and other issues. Using horizontal or vertical cable managers can help tremendously with this. Next, the cables must be run neatly to where they are going. This typically means running them either under the flooring or in the ceiling, depending on the data center design. In all of these areas, make sure to properly label the cables on both ends for easier troubleshooting.
Plan Properly for Your Data Center Design
Taking the planning of your data center design seriously is very important. These tips are a great place to start and will help ensure your facility operates well from the very beginning.