Commissioning awareness in the design and construction industry has come a long way from the previously popular notion of being synonymous with startup and testing.  ASHRAE’s definition of commissioning has always been holistic.  ASHRAE Standard 202P Commissioning Process for Buildings & Systems defines the commissioning process as follows:

A quality-focused process for enhancing the delivery of a project. The process focuses upon verifying and documenting that all of the commissioned systems and assemblies are planned, designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained to meet the Owner's Project Requirements. 

In the Foreword of that same standard, further mention is made in reference to the end to end application of the commissioning process.

The Commissioning Process begins at project inception (during the Pre-Design Phase) and continues for the life of the facility (through the Occupancy and Operations).

A critical component of the commissioning process is the Owners Project Requirements (OPR).  This document is the de-facto barometer for measuring the project’s success through the use of the commissioning process.  Created at project inception, the OPR seeks to capture the Owner’s goals, preferences and value system and acts as the guidance system for all downstream design and construction activities.

A balance needs to be struck when creating the OPR between being goal / performance centric to allow for the most flexibility / freedom in meeting those goals and being prescriptive enough to have the right amount of control over the outcomes. 

An effective commissioning process not only audits and validates that the design intent has been successfully translated and implemented into the built facility, it audits and validates that the design and construction overall has delivered the success metrics defined in the OPR. 

For data centers and mission critical facilities, the commissioning process takes on a heightened importance given the “always on” nature of the operation (i.e. the mission).  Once the facility is operational, it is expected to remain that way for many 9s of time.  It is akin to a continuous acceleration chamber.

Unlike most commercial facilities, data centers are much more physically, systematically and operationally resilient.  Consequently, there are many more variables, scenarios and events, both planned and unplanned, that all need to be accounted for and addressed within the commissioning process.

The data center industry, fueled by groundbreaking data from ASHRAE on higher ITE inlet temperatures, has seen many innovative designs that have drastically reduced overall energy consumption but also, in some cases, lowered the margin of error for operational tolerances.  This in turn has increased the interdependency between commissioning and controls.   

Commissioning is at the very fulcrum of the design and construction process and the right commissioning agent is arguably THE most critical hire for data center projects (perhaps even more so than the design team or construction contractor since the right blend of experience and process can have a compensatory effect for any project shortcomings).  Underestimate the importance of commissioning at your peril!

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