When Building a New Data Center, Don’t Skimp on Commissioning

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When you build a new data center, chances are you’ll be using components from various vendors, maybe CRAC/CRAH units from one vendors, power components from another, fire suppression systems from a third and so on. While each vendor will sing the virtues of its own piece of the puzzle, none of them will necessarily guarantee that the data center as a whole will function as intended.

That’s where data center commissioning comes in. Commissioning is the process through which data center operators review and test the data center’s physical infrastructure design as a holistic system in order to assure the highest level of reliability.

Commissioning helps to compare actual system performance to the performance assumed by designers as they architected the data center. The essence of commissioning is “reliability insurance.” The main purpose of traditional insurance is to lower the liability should an incident occur in a home or business. Commissioning lowers the risk of failures in the data center by making sure, ahead of time, that the system works as an integrated whole. It also can demonstrate how the equipment and systems perform during failure scenarios.

A newly revised APC by Schneider Electric white paper, “Data Center Projects: Commissioning,” quotes the global consulting engineering firm Einhorn Yaffee Prescott (EYP), which says a good rule of thumb is to invest 2% of the overall data center project cost on commissioning. If that sounds like a lot, perhaps it’s because the commissioning process can be complex and time-consuming.

But it’s also becoming a requirement. Whereas once commissioning was associated mainly with data centers of 20,000 square feet or larger, that’s no longer the case. As the white paper says:

“In the recent past, many data center managers chose to roll the dice and perform little or no commissioning, relying only on start-up data to press ahead with launching the new data center. Given the reality of 24×7 operations, however, the alternative of exposure to major system failures and accompanying downtime is no longer an economically viable option. Commissioning has now become a business necessity.”

Commissioning is part of the implementation phase of a data center project. It became a necessity when the standard equipment start-up procedures that individual data center component vendors use consistently failed to identify system-wide weaknesses.

As explained in the paper, commissioning involves a number of processes, including:

  • Planning, which starts months ahead of the actual delivery of physical infrastructure equipment. It involves the vendors of various component subsystems as well as primary and secondary stakeholders.
  • Investment, which is essentially determining how much commissioning should be performed, depending on business requirements and budget.
  • Selection of a commissioning agent, preferably an independent entity.
  • Creation of test scripts, which provide a roadmap for testing all key data center elements.
  • Testing of each component in terms of how they react to failures and restarts.

The white paper walks through all the standard inputs to the process as well as the ideal outputs and the commissioning process flow. If a new or redesigned data center is in your future, consider white paper no. 148, “Data Center Projects: Commissioning,” a must read.

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