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Published on 15 October 2019 In this section Data denter design and construction

Data center commissioning: a key stage and a worthwhile investment

Widely adopted by colocated businesses, hosting companies and Web giants, data center commissioning is seen increasingly as an essential step for all businesses. It is relevant to all computer-room configurations, irrespective of their size or criticality.

Commissioning of data centers: technical and procedural compliance

With its roots in the construction industry, commissioning (or acceptance, or putting into service) means checking the compliance of an installation against what was planned in the requirements specification. It has two objectives: to ensure firstly that the installation will reach the required performance level (continuity of service and energy efficiency); and secondly that the conditions are in place for it to maintain this performance level over time.

At data center level, commissioning consists of checking the compliance of equipment essential to guarantee service continuity: electricity supplies, cooling systems, and supervisory systems (Centralized Technical Management (CTM) or Building Technical Management (BTM)). But it also involves ensuring that the installation will function to comply with the expected availability levels, in the event of an incident or breakdown, and to meet the energy-performance objectives.

In practical terms, commissioning the data center involves testing the power-up and the correct functioning of each equipment, individually and then all together. Then to check the redundancy chains will operate at different load levels, and in the event of a breakdown. This requires the implementation of various test scenarios to check, for instance, that the generator set(s) supply the site if the electricity supply is cut, that the cooling equipment automatically restarts within the required time so that the IT equipment is air-conditioned, that the electrical supply is reliable, that the fire-extinguishing systems work properly, etc.

Apart from load-handling ability and continuity of service, all the procedures are also assessed in order to check the information reported to the supervisory system (CTM or BTM), and also that alerts are correctly triggered, to comply with the scenarios envisaged by the design team.

Data centers commissioning: variable in time and complexity

The time to carry out this phase of the commissioning varies depending on the size of the data center and how critical it is to the business: although a few tens of hours may be enough to commission a room consisting of a few racks, more comprehensive tests are necessary for a larger data center (one used for collocation, for an e-business or for an operator of vital importance).

In no case will a simple check list be enough: apart from the operation of each element, it is essential to understand in detail all the interactions between the infrastructures in a data center. You need therefore to prepare in advance breakdown scenarios that represent precisely and accurately the complexity of the functionality and operating processes in the center.

Commissioning of data centers: now an essential step

Naturally, commissioning comes at the end of the project. When the project is behind time, it is sometimes tempting to “rush through” this stage. However, it has proved complicated to do retrospectively, if there is a performance problem or, worse, loss of availability. In addition, in the event of an incident or breakdown, the financial consequences and impact on brand image may very quickly prove disastrous.

Commissioning is a substantial bulwark that reduces risk. This is also the reason why colocated businesses and hosting and telecoms companies, whose core business is to commit to a service level (Service Level Agreement, SLA), have been investing in this area for many years. Given the digital transformation of businesses, it is seen increasingly as essential for all data center users.

Carried out internally or assigned to a “neutral” third party, commissioning is a worthwhile investment: not only does it reduce the risks of breakdown, but it also saves the future operating teams valuable time in identifying the specific features of the future data center and procedures. In addition, commissioning projects also provide a more general opportunity to use operating experience to develop good practices in data-center design.

By Martin Dansette, Head of Projects, APL

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