At the core of many modern business operations are data centre facilities used to house the computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems, which run applications that handle core business and operational data 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Accordingly, data centres should achieve uncompromising levels of performance. The impact of catastrophes such as power outages and security breaches at these centres can have a significant effect on business operations – compromising crucial business information, with severe consequences.
Data centres are unlike any other buildings. They require unprecedented amounts of heating and cooling; their structures need protection against ‘worst-case’ events such as terrorism and earthquake, and they require not only back-up power, but uninterrupted power supply at all times.
Data centres of the 21st century also need to be scalable. Modular solutions that embrace a standardisation design approach and which also allow for incremental expansion are the key requirements. In this regard, it is critical that consultants understand the current and future needs of the businesses for which they design. This allows for ‘future-proofed’ design and, with a standardised approach, optimisation of design, construction and facilities management delivers better value and lower operational risk.
Companies don’t want to build over-sized facilities and then fill them up gradually. They want the design of their facilities to meet their current needs, but also cater for future expansion, by providing the option to build onto the facility in logical phases as needed and, in a way, that makes practical and financial sense, but without further risking disruption to the operational portion of the facility.
In addition to smarter design solutions, improving performance is essential. Data centres are significant users of energy and are estimated to represent 4 per cent of Australia’s total energy consumption and approximately 10 per cent of the world’s energy. Today’s data centre owners are placing a greater emphasis on the performance and even official rating of their centres.
In Australia, the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) Energy for Data Centres rating tool has been developed by the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage, in collaboration with the Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, and it’s likely other countries will follow suit.
This rating tool allows data centre owners and operators to assess the energy performance of their facilities, as well as understand how to invest in cost-effective energy saving initiatives that will reduce unnecessary energy use and save money.
Installing the latest technology such as using IoT devices, using big data analysis and machine learning can go a long way toward improving effectiveness, but it’s important that the technology functions are used in conjunction with high impact passive design measures such as effective building sealing, high performance building insulation and the use of free cooling.
In some regions of the world, it’s possible to utilise cool air at night to pass through the conditioning systems and cool the plant, whereas in other regions, it’s possible to exploit ground-source cooling. In countries like Scandinavia, technologists are digging data centres into the ground or housing them in caves or former mines and air raid shelters, to ensure efficient free cooling.
In addition to efficiency, there is also a huge drive to address what the industry terms ‘under-designed centres’ which require their owner to expand capacity. This involves upgrading system reliability, including increasing power generation, security and enhanced structural requirements such as additional access control.
Aurecon has a very unique process for undertaking these kinds of upgrades. Called an Outline Implementation Plan, this involves the use of a systematic assessment tool which governs a comprehensive, systematic upgrade process. The result is peace-of-mind for owners that an upgrade has addressed all angles of performance.
Today benchmark performance has effectively come to mean ‘zero down-time’.
It takes virtually ‘fail-proof’ design to achieve this. In this regard, an excellent knowledge of backup technologies is key. This includes ensuring any backup technology is ‘fully redundant’, meaning that if it fails, there is an alternate source of uninterrupted power supply to back it up.
With the rapid increased global demand and shortage of experienced data centre professionals across all aspects of data centre design, construction and operation stages, one key aspect to meeting this downtime performance is to simplify the operation of systems and implement automation to reduce the workload on operational staff. Clever designs that clearly segregate operational maintenance tasks, provide simple monitoring and reporting and reduce system complexity, will help mitigate risk of operator error into the future operation of the facility.
Adrian Jenkins is a leader of large and complex projects across tender design, detailed design and construction phases for airports, integrated resorts, hospitals, public buildings and data centres. Recently returning to Australia from Hong Kong, where he led Aurecon’s MEP business across Greater China, Adrian is now Aurecon’s Major Projects Director, ANZ Data Centres, based in Brisbane.
His portfolio includes maintaining delivery consistency and excellence across Aurecon’s data centre suite of projects across Australia and New Zealand. Adrian is a ‘sense maker’ and has a passion for modular and offsite construction, intelligent building design and information and communication technology design. Throughout his 25-year career, Adrian has recently led and delivered major data centre projects, including Global Switch Data Centre and supported a number of others in Hong Kong. He has a Bachelor of Electrical and Computing Engineering.
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