What makes an “ideal” Data Centre?
Data centres come in all shapes and sizes, their designs driven by a multitude of factors. These can be highly disparate, from the purpose it is used for; to the physical environmental it is located in; the materials it’s constructed of; or even who it is designed – global colocation companies, cloud computing specialists, telecom service operators etc.
However, regardless of the diversity of these driving factors, if a new data centre is going to have any chance of achieving “ideal” status there is a core set of five characteristics that must always be at the centre of the project.
- Low Cost
Keeping CAPEX as low as possible is always an important factor in the decision making process. In fact, CAPEX restrictions result in some data centres never being built, as the initial cost is deemed too high. So for operators with a fixed budget available for expanding an existing data centre or building a new one, taking a prefabricated modular approach to constructing the facility is most often the way to go. Modular data centres enable a lower day one CAPEX which can be critical to building a positive business case and getting the project off the drawing board.
However, financial success is not simply driven by achieving low capital expenditure – minimising ongoing operational costs is also critical in achieving the best business case for a data centre operator. And this is where a delicate balancing act is required, to ensure that the capital invested is justified by the savings achieved through efficiency. For example, a total cost of ownership calculation comparing cooling systems of varying price and efficiency will deliver significantly different results as the timescale is increased. So it can be seen that CAPEX and OPEX can’t be looked at in isolation, as making the optimal investment of the former will deliver manageable and assured levels of the latter.
- Future Proof
While operators typically try to minimise their initial investments as much as possible, they will always want their data centre to be ready for the future, meaning the facility should be able to grow in pace with increasing customer and market demands but without interrupting ongoing operations. Businesses rarely grow in an entirely predictable or linear fashion though, so a critical element of future proofing a new facility is not simply ensuring its ability to grow bigger over time, but having a built-in flexibility to adapt to continually changing market needs. This kind of flexibility can be achieved with elements such as high ceilings (up to 5m), pillar-free flexible open white space and the ability reconfigure or expand the building itself in order to accommodate a change in operational or service requirements. These features are typically associated with modular prefabricated data centres such as Flexenclosure’s eCentre, rather than their traditionally-built brick and mortar cousins. And they reduce the pressure on operators to get their long term forecasting absolutely right, allowing them instead to rest easy that they will be able to readily adapt to new technology trends and customer needs as they occur.
- Short Time to Market
In most cases, by the time an operator allocates a budget and places an order for a new data centre, the facility is already late. “Yesterday” is the typical response when asked when they need their new facility to be up and running, so time to market is always a critical factor. Short overall project times are almost impossible to achieve with traditional building techniques, so again the answer lies in modular prefabricated facilities which can be completed much much quicker. (For more on this see my colleague Jos Baart’s article Prefabricated Construction or Traditional Build for Ultra-High Performance Data Centres?) Short time to market ensures that the operator stays ahead of competition and also ensures a better ROI as the capital investment starts generating returns much faster.
- High Quality
One of the key demands from end customers considering having their servers hosted in a data centre is uptime, with guaranteed availability close to 100%, 24/7. And with so many businesses increasingly designating their data and network infrastructure as mission critical, data centre outages have become headline news. No data centre operator or client wants to be in eye of a data centre outage storm, so the quality of any new facility will always need to be predictable.
The data centre industry is relatively young, with standards and certifications still evolving, but TIA-942 along with the work of Uptime Institute are ensuring that design and build quality is moving in the right direction. Data centre reliability is not only affected by equipment-related power outages though, as the extreme environments in which facilities often need to be constructed can also seriously impact their availability. So for full peace of mind, operators need to be sure that the company designing and building the data centre for them is experienced in building facilities that have been certified to withstand whatever the planet might throw at them, be it earthquake, cyclone, flooding, etc.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where security has become one of our biggest concerns and for many organisations data security is a critical issue. So guaranteeing the physical security of their servers is vital for any operator. This can be achieved through the use of secure cages or pods with restricted access using the latest biometric sensors and CCTV monitoring. The site plan for security will include multiple zones and access paths for customers, incoming materials, equipment service, etc. as in some cases a threat may not be directed at a particular customer but to the entire facility. The establishment of multi-level security protocols to handle potential security threats is therefore very important for any data centre operator.
Of course there are many other factors taken in to consideration by operators when specifying their requirements for an upgraded or new data centre facility. But if they are to find an ideal fit for their requirements, these five factors of low cost, time to market, future proofing, quality predictability and security all need to be a central part of the project plan.
By: Srikanth Murugan