What is required to set up a data center? How Building a Modern Datacenter?


The single most important factor ( and what is most commonly forgotten ) when setting up a data center is to know what you actually require - especially with respect to availability of services within the data center.

Most people just ask for Tier-N ( N being whichever tier is desired ) simply because they’ve heard Tier-N is good, most commonly Tier-3, but sometimes Tier-4 or Tier-5.

In fact, there’s no such thing as a suitable Tier if you’re doing it for your own company. What is actually required is a good understanding of what the operational requirements are for the equipment you’re housing.

Based on this, you can define everything the data center requires - from size and location through expansion. Costs are another factor that are easier to control once you understand what resilience you require, and knowing what budget is allocated is critical also.

After that, a data center architect is pretty familiar with identifying the necessary project aspects, from location limitations to power and cooling requirements and, hopefully, even local by-laws that will affect design due to matters such as noise - especially when the generators are running ( assuming you require generators, although the power WILL go out from time to time, no matter how good the supply us ).

I’ve known critical data centers to operate without power or additional cooling though, and they worked pretty well - the original architects of some of those facilities distributed a small installation that utilized existing HVAC environments and power, used UPS for small power outages, and had a generator brought in for major power outages. They were on a hospital grid, so outages were infrequent and well-planned. When they had major outages, they relied on distribution of the applications so that the applications would withstand losing a data-center or two. It was only about 40 racks, but it was very cost effective.

But even a DC installation as small as 40 racks would normally push a large building’s HVAC system. Even at a smaller capacity of 2kW each, that’s 80kW - As much as would be taken by 160 to 200 people, or thereabouts, in the space often occupied by as few as 20 people… So unless the building’s HVAC system was massively overspecified, or the building isn’t going to be used by those people ( ie, empty floors will remain empty ) then the data center will fail, or additional cooling will be required.

Power is a little easier to deal with- at least on a smaller scale, but again, it’s very easy to exceed a building’s capacity with even low-power-requirement IT equipment, and power upgrades may not be possible. For this reason, it’s generally best to build even small DC installations as a new project, from scratch, without leaning on existing infrastructure support. This is also important from a reliability and resilience perspective as the DC operations may not have control over building operations, including HVAC maintenance and operations, or peak load on supply, and forget trying to operate within an ASHRAE envelope. It won’t be possible.

On the other hand, if you’re building a data center as a business, then it’s a different requirement.

Customers want to pay for the above level of infrastructure, but expect uptime and reliability that are technically impossible. Under those situations, requirements aren’t available, so market research is necessary, and selection of a Tier that most customers are likely to ask for is necessary. Undershooting a tier requirement is common in the industry, but a few unplanned outages will see customers moving away and damage the centers reputation.

It’s not necessary to operate under a UI Tier, but it’s usually a good decision commercially to do so, and you can take a course with UI to learn how to design data centers.

Either way, there should be a consideration of future impact on the data center as well, both social and political, as well as industrial as these factors could all affect DC operations during the lifetime of the project.

If a company is planning to set up a data center, finding answers to some of the below given questions are pre-requisites:

1. What will be the data center plan as per allocated budget?

Budget is the top most concern for any new infrastructure so the kind of data center company is going to build remains entirely dependent upon the budget, the company is planning to invest on its devleopment. The blueprint must be developed while keeping in mind the budget constraints. Also any data center plan must meet the globally accepted standards such as ANSI/TIA-942 standard which serves as a major criteria for building an efficient data center. Global standards needs to be met to take care of all high importance factors including location, architecture, safety, security, etc. The data center plan must also consider the kind of servers, storage appliances, technological devices, power cables, etc. will be used for setting up the whole facility.

2. What will be the location of data center?

Location plays a very important role for setting up of any data center. Many businesses choose retrofit approach as per which they make use of an existing infrastructure to build their data center. This kind of approach require changes to the building as per the new design. Another approach is to build everything from scratch which requires a huge amount of budget.

A company must ensure that the location does not fall in high seismic activity zones or places that are prone to floods or any other natural disasters. A research reveals that data center sector is still rocked by natural disasters.

3. What are the power/electricity requirements?

Businesses suffer huge losses owing to power outages so uninterrupted supply of electricity is indispensable for any data center. Even a few seconds of outages costs too much for companies therefore it is necessary to have a back-up plan which is generally achieved by creation of two power lines for the data center facility. If one line suffers from power interruptions, the other one serves as the back-up and helps in smooth functioning of data center at all times.

4. What will be the arrangements to achieve data center cooling?

Cooling must be ensured for the data center as servers, storage devices and racks need to be maintained at standard temperature levels. Overheating could cause instances of fire and even poor performance of machines. To meet cooling requirements companies generally make use of normal DX (direct expansion) air conditioning. Some companies these days are opting for natural ways to achieve cooling of data centers. They either select cold regions for setting up their data centers as is the case with Facebook data center located in Sweden or even natural air is used to serve the purpose using glycol based coolant systems.

5. What will be the measures for security and safety?

Safety and security considerations need due importance from the company that is going to set up a new data center. The company must create proper provisions for fire safety. Also, the facility must be under constant supervision always. Physical security is of prime importance for any data center.

Find a place near reliable power and water, it has to be geologically stable if possible, not prone to flooding, has to have access to multiple different fibre connections. Decide what level of security you’re going to provide, and if you need to provide satellite connectivity in case local fibre is out for any length of time.

Build a warehouse there. Provide a standby generator with enough fuel to last for 24–48 hours if mains power goes. Provide UPS power to support the data centre between mains power stopping and the generator firing up to take the load. You’ll need modern air conditioning (note don’t air con the room, just the equipment), lots of 19″ racks full of servers and disk trays. Networking equipment both for connection to the fibre links and to allow connections between the servers in the data centre.

Sophisticated monitoring software so that kit needing replacement is identified quickly. If you’re not going to build your own cloud environment, just a data centre running standard type applications with no requirement to share out the resources amongst a number of different customers, billing and system administration is way simpler.

Add biometric authentication to control access to the data centre, and a storage area for hardware to be used as replacements for broken stuff. If your business model needs it, provide secure cages for servers, disk trays and network connectivity so that certain applications can be isolated if necessary.

You’ll need a small amount of office space, professional security and remote monitoring. And you’ll need lots of well-defined processes to describe how to replace broken equipment, configure servers, filesystems and networks, how to control access to servers and data and what to do if things go wrong. And contact lists.

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