Peter Greaves, Aurecon’s Expertise leader for Data & ICT Facilities and Matt Gurr, Associate Engineer, discuss how the loads on data centres have steadily increased over the years and the way data centres were designed in the past is not necessarily conducive to meeting our current and future expansion needs.
“Ten years ago, we were designing data centres for an average electrical load of 500 kilowatts per square metre. Increased technology, IT demands and smartphones have caused this load to rise, so we are now designing for 1 200 kilowatts per square metre,” says Greaves.
Increased technology, IT demands and smartphones have led to a rise in the electrical load demands of data centres
The dilemma that many data centre owners and operators face with catering for an anticipated increase in loads is that it leads to stranded plants (i.e. wasted infrastructure and underutilised equipment). Technology, as well as systems and services upgrades, leads to data centre owners investing capital in equipment that is not needed for several years down the line and this low usage equipment needs to be maintained, adding to the expenses.
“Besides the high costs for the equipment that was purchased and maintained, stranded plants are also often characterised by equipment that runs inefficiently, which leads to wasted electricity, rising power costs and it also impacts a data centre’s sustainability targets,” says Greaves.
Currently, existing legacy data centres go through the life cycle of upgrading systems such as Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS), generators, incoming supplies and generators before they are faced with hard limitations such as space constraints, structural limitations and site power constraints, which lead them to quickly run out of space. In order to expand, many data centre owners make the business decision of building a new facility to overcome these limitations.
A staged growth approach, argues Greaves, is a more economical approach to manage a data centre’s current needs as well as plan and expand according to future needs.
“Staged growth, as opposed to a full install, offers numerous benefits. There’s greater visibility of capital expenditure needs and lower capital costs, as well as a lower total cost since less is spent on maintenance,” says Gurr.
Even when planning for future load requirements, however, most data centre designers can still only make educated guesses regarding what the real operational growth will be.
“Even a staged approach could lead to stranded assets. The problem with underutilised assets, or assets that are not used at all, is that it is usually only detected when the data centre is already in operation, making it a difficult problem to rectify. Planning your staging can help you avoid stranded assets at the design phase instead of when the data centre is operating, which can lead to significant savings,” says Greaves.
Technology selection, site location, the appointment of specialist architects and engineers, as well as planning applications, are only a few of the aspects that need in-depth consideration to build data centres for future processes. To avoid stranded assets, data centre owners also need to plan for flexibility.
“When developing detailed upgrade strategies to enable modular plant expansions and provide plant expansion spaces to be added, it’s important not to skimp on building space during the design phase. Another way to plan for flexibility is to include different density zones in the site plan and provide flexibility in white space zones. Also consider all systems and services during the planning and ensure expansion capability is adequately designed with interfaces and connections,” says Gurr.
“With the emergence of digital engineering and the widespread use of Building Information Modelling (BIM), not only will modular design and prefabricated construction become more prevalent, but new builds and the operation of these will become more efficient,” concludes Peter.