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Data Center Dilemmas

This column is in response to a series of questions from NDCF readers, one of whom is looking to start a small internal data center. The other reader, however, wants to know if there is a standard for organizing physical room space in a data enter, such as grouping specific servers together.

Starting a Data Center

Response: You will of course need to prepare an overall business and technical plan. In addition, you will need to carry out a full structural survey of the (candidate) facility to check for floor loading capability and ceiling height, as well as fully diverse entry points and capacities for electricity and telecoms services into the building. The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) recommendation, as described in the ICT Infrastructure Management best practice guidance, is a minimum of 5kN/m2 (Kilonewtons per square meter) floor loading capability and a slab-to-slab total floor height of 3.6 metres, permitting a floor void between fixed floor and false floor of 600 millimetres and a usable data center working height of three metres.

But when you come down to look at the nuts and bolts of the data center build-out, you might like to consider one of the modular racking systems that integrates power distribution, battery backup, air conditioning, and ventilation in an integral rack system. Power and cooling is distributed more efficiently amongst each cluster of racks and you only need to buy the amount of power and cooling distribution required for the expected power and thermal load. The operating costs therefore grow more linearly with the growth in the size of the server and networking system build-out, thereby yielding a quicker return on investment.

To check the airflow in your facility, you could make use of three-dimensional thermal analysis tools such as FLOVENT supplied by Flomerics. This type of analysis uses computational fluid dynamics modelling to predict thermal flows in a data center and visualise this using 3-D colour graphics. This helps in the planning of cold and hot aisles and the placement of air conditioning units either in parallel or perpendicular to the rack rows for optimum cooling. The Flomerics website provides useful links to papers by IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), and others on the use of this tool on modelling rack inlet air temperatures in raised floor computer data centers.

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