Datacentre designs

A lot hinges on getting the design phase of a datacentre right. Whether an enterprise decides to do it alone or calls in a consultant, the key to success might lie with having a clear set of goals and enforcing coordinated effort.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  June 15, 2008

A lot hinges on getting the design phase of a datacentre right. Whether an enterprise decides to do it alone or calls in a consultant, the key to success might lie with having a clear set of goals and enforcing coordinated effort.

When you are building a datacentre, design is often the place to start. It is essential for enterprises, especially ones that are implementing greenfield datacentres, to put in the requisite effort to ensure efficient datacentre design. However, getting design right is easier said than done.

"Designing a datacentre is not just about the IT systems. It involves everything from the location of the datacentre in the organisation's premises, to where each piece of equipment will go, how cables will be laid and how power and cooling issues will be handled," points out Herbert Radlinger, general manager for the Middle East at Schnabel AG.

A datacentre is not just any other room. It is one where the entire information technology set-up of the organisation is housed. This in turn means that organisations will need to pay attention not just to how many servers and storage elements they need, but also how the datacentre can be equipped to handle them.

"The planning and design phase of datacentre projects are crucial to the successful implementation of these projects. It is therefore advisable to spend a considerable amount of time during this phase to properly plan such large-scale projects and thus avoid the high costs associated with future corrections of poorly designed plans," says Wael El Nadi, technology solutions manager at EMC in the region.

Working your way forward

The scale of datacentre projects and their importance to the organisation require that enterprises, which set out to build their own, need to consider a number of elements.

"The normal course of things is that the business strategy drives the apps, the apps drive the hardware, which drive the infrastructure, and that drives the building design and location.

I would say to an IT manager who is starting off to make sure that he understands that he is part of the overall business strategy and success, and consider how he can contribute," states Richard Sawyer, VP of EYP. The company, which offers a range of consulting and design services for datacentres, was recently acquired by HP.

"There are several things that firms need to consider when designing a datacentre.

They have to understand the initial requirements and the projected growth, the size of the room, the electrical system, the mechanical system, grounding infrastructure, cable containment for power and telecom, structured cabling system, security and redundancy of systems among others," states Alexandre Regnard, senior consultant at PMK International.

Most problems that arise in a datacentre can be traced back to initial mistakes made in the design phase - and enterprises can make a lot of them.

"The two most common mistakes is that enterprises either over-design or under-design their datacentres. Some people will go in and say they need a Tier 4, highly reliable datacentre when actually their business does not need that. And the converse is also true," says Sawyer.

"Location is one of the key considerations in setting up a datacentre. This is where most enterprises make mistakes. Everything else can possibly be rectified but a bad location can not," says Radlinger.

Unsuitable locations include car parks or the top floors of high-rise buildings. Datacentres are always better deployed and managed closer to the ground. Enterprises also need to consider the capacity of the raised floor to take on load as the density of their IT systems increase.

They should invest in modular systems that can easily accommodate adds, moves and changes as required.

Additionally, they need to ensure proper coordination between all services such as mechanical, electrical, plumbing, telecommunications, management and maintenance.

"One of the other fundamental mistakes we are seeing now is that people are not respecting the amount of computing power that is going into IT equipment. We used to see 1.2 to 2 kilowatts per rack, now we are seeing 15 to 24 kilowatts per rack.

An electric range in your home when you turn everything on is maybe 4 kilowatts. People don't respect either the amount of power that goes into IT equipment or conversly the cooling capacity that is needed," states Sawyer.

He adds that companies should build to achieve higher efficiencies from IT systems, simply because there is only a limited amount of power that is going to come into any building.

He also warns that with the frenetic pace of construction in the Middle East, enterprises should consider their environment and account for it in the initial phase.

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