Benefits and Essential Elements of a Data Center Reference Design

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It’s only natural if you’re building or renovating a data center to want to finish the job quickly. On the other hand, you don’t want a rush job that leaves you with a data center that doesn’t completely fulfill your requirements.

A data center reference design can help speed things along by giving you a base to build on while also helping ensure you don’t make costly mistakes with respect to crucial specifications.

Before you can begin to select a reference design, your project team will need to agree on a list of basic requirements for the data center, which will help determine which reference designs are appropriate. At a minimum, you’ll need to consider three criteria:

  • Density
  • Total expected IT load
  • Level of redundancy for power and cooling

Defining a more comprehensive set of requirements will help you more quickly narrow the number of potential design options. Keep in mind that a reference design may be for a complete data center, or just a subsection such as an IT pod, power plant, or cooling plant.

However extensive your project is, reference designs can save you money because they’re built upon recommended and proven best practices from the manufacturers of the various components that go into the data center. The manufacturers understand the sorts of conditions under which their products work best and can guide you accordingly.

A reference design offers a number of other benefits, including:

  • Facilitating and simplifying the planning phase
  • Reducing the time required to create buildable designs
  • Reducing risk by offering predictable performance and improved reliability of the data center once it’s operational

These benefits stem from the fact that reference designs provide tested, validated and documented plans for how the physical infrastructure systems should be constructed and laid out, and for the specific components to be used.

And, just as a homebuilder will use a model home as a starting point for customers, a data center reference design is likewise like a jumping off point that can be customized as necessary.

For a reference design covering a complete data center, the electrical, mechanical, and IT room areas should all be covered by the plan. The design documentation typically comes in two forms:

  • Graphical descriptions
  • Written support documents

Graphical design descriptions provide one-line diagrams for electrical, mechanical and IT rooms. Floor layouts are typically included that show physical dimensions and the dimensions of all system components, such as racks, PDUs, CRACs/CRAHs, UPSs, generators and so forth.

Drawings may also include 3D spatial views that give you a sense of what the finished data center will look like. Such 3D views can be an effective way to help show, demonstrate and promote a design to non-technical project stakeholders such as a CFO or Procurement people.

In terms of written support documents, an effective reference design should include documentation of basic specifications such as cost, IT load capacity, estimated annual PUE, density capability, level of redundancy for power and cooling and so on. These kinds of standardized lists help project teams more easily make apples-to-apples comparisons among competing design plans.

Another helpful written element is a bill of materials (BOM) that lists all the components shown in the reference design graphical documentation, right down to the product name and part number. It also helps to note whether the reference design vendor supplies each part, to speed procurement later in the project.

If you’re going to embark on a data center project, learn more by checking out Schneider Electric white paper number 147, Data Center Projects: Advantages of Using a Reference Design.

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