Wednesday, 21st August 2019
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Look beyond the surface for effective facilities planning and design

When undertaking a data centre planning project – whether consolidating company infrastructure following a merger or acquisition, relocating facilities into a pre-existing building, or even constructing a new data centre – the primary consideration lays in the project meeting the business requirements with optimised performance one of the key motivator. By Jon Leppard, Director at Future Facilities.

In many projects, optimising the performance of the hardware housed within the data centre has an impact on the external appearance of the building. Whilst the external appearance is an obvious aspect of a new data centre design, maximising an existing facility’s IT capacity may involve installing additional external cooling equipment on the existing building. In such case, these modifications or proposals must be approved by the local authority through planning permission prior to the project proceeding. If the project planning application does not consider all aspects of the design beforehand, businesses can be hit with unexpected delays to the project, significant expense and a logistical nightmare.

Simulate early or plan to fail

Despite the planning application having to be undertaken early in a data centre life, obtaining and adhering to planning permission is fundamental to the success of any data centre projects. Changes to the approved plan, due for example to poor communication in a highly segmented design team, can have huge impact from both a cost and time perspective. The later the stage on a project time at which it is realised that a change needs to be made, the more expansive this change is likely to be. One way to successfully navigate the planning application process is to treat it using a multidisciplinary approach to ensure that issues are identified early in the project when there is more flexibility.

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) expert Julien de Charentenay of RED shared the following illustrative example: “I consulted on a number of data centre optimisation projects using air cooled chillers in urban and semi-urban areas. These locations are particularly challenging due to their need of balancing the planning acoustic requirements that safeguard local residents with the ventilation requirements of the chillers. It is important to get this balance right early in the project as failure could lead to needing to amend the planning application. This can lead to significant delays and difficulties in project delivery.”

Reverse the timeline

The problem is that often a design has been created, and then a validation study is conducted using engineering simulation very late in the project timeline, and treated as a rubber-stamping exercise to confirm the systems performance. When no provision is made for design changes resulting from the study, the result can be unexpected delays, expenditure or even compromised performance. If this process is reversed, and simulation is conducted at the beginning of the project during the initial design process, the impacts of the optimisation project on the external appearance of the facility can be factored into the initial planning application. Even in an instance where the initial proposal is rejected by the local authority, a compromise can be reached before the construction process begins, which minimises the impact in terms of both time and expense.

For data centre projects, the use of simulation techniques such as 3D modelling allows engineers to predict what the impact of any proposed change would be on the data centre before any work is done, meaning they are able to take the requisite steps to mitigate any potential problems that could be caused before any work is done. Further, using predictive simulation to understand and mitigate the effects that external influences will have on a data centre project allow engineers to truly understand and prevent risks to the effective running of the facility going forward.

To maximise the effectiveness of a data centre from a business perspective, a predictive approach should begin at the very outset of the project and continue on an ongoing basis. Ultimately, modelling cannot be a planning afterthought if business are to avoid the sting of project delays, unnecessary expenditure and a flawed end product.

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