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Commissioning a Data Center: A Continuous Process


There is a popular misconception that commissioning a data center is a one and done process. The initial structure is completed, testing performed and everyone walks away happy. Certainly successfully completing the 5 (five) levels of data center commissioning is a cause for everyone to take a moment to congratulate themselves on a job well done, but, as these days of hyperscalable data centers for the cloud and SaaS, new enterprise facilities and the expected proliferation of edge locations remind us, commissioning is a continuous activity.

WHAT IS DATA CENTER COMMISSIONING?

For those that may have forgotten, commissioning aids in ensuring that all systems work as designed thereby reducing initial failure rates and verifies the operational capabilities of the data center site. The goals of a successful commissioning process include:

  • Verification that the equipment and systems perform as they have been designed
  • Provide a baseline to use in the assessment of the site’s performance over time
  • Enable operations personnel to familiarize themselves with how the systems perform as well as, verifying operational procedures in a controlled environment
  • Determine the performance limits of the data center

WHEN SHOULD THE DATA CENTER BE COMMISSIONED?

The process itself should closely parallel the actual design and construction of the facility and begins with the selection of a commissioning agent.

START BY SELECTING A COMMISSIONING AGENT EARLY

Ideally, the selection of a commissioning agent should take place during the pre-design phase of the project to enable the budget and schedule can be developed early on and the actual testing program designed to closely mirror the future data center’s design. The commissioning agent should have:

  • Experience with mission critical/data center commissioning. On the job training is not a desirable commission environment
  • Extensive knowledge of the project’s know topologies and technologies
  • Documented client referrals

Obviously, the commissioning agent needs to be an independent third party that is contracted by the provider and not a member of the project’s construction or engineering firm’s to eliminate any potential bias. Once selected, the commissioning agent is responsible for producing the overall commissioning plan, scripts and the system manual.

ONGOING COMMISSIONING OF NEWLY ADDED INFRASTRUCTURE AND CONFIGURATION CHANGES

Commissioning data centers should be performed any time new infrastructure is installed or there is a significant change to the configuration of existing infrastructure. This could include planned expansion of the data center or major replacements. In data centers that are built to be scalable, it is imperative that commissioning be just as rigorous for the expanded infrastructure as for the original facility itself. While the site’s initial commissioning program may prove the concept of the design, the facility could potentially be at risk if all of the new infrastructure components and systems are not tested rigorously.

COMMISSIONING NEWLY ADDED CAPACITY

Commissioning of the newly added capacity occurs while the systems are supporting critical IT load. During these incremental commissioning activities, it is imperative that the operations team work closely with the commissioning team to ensure the integrity of the data center throughout the process. Additionally, if re-commissioning involves changes to the configuration of the data center, Operations needs full awareness so that operating procedures that impact maintenance and emergency activities can be updated and tested completely.

The commissioning of added units of capacity necessitates that the following actions be taken:

  • Provision of adequate notice to service owners about the schedule, duration, risk, and countermeasures in place for the commissioning activities in order to gain concurrence from IT end users.
  • For facilities that are based on a dual-corded IT equipment topology, the commissioning team and operations’ personnel should verify that the existing critical load is appropriately dual corded where systems that support installed IT loads are to be commissioned.
  • Pre-plan load bank placement so as not to impact the existing critical IT equipment.
  • Detailed commissioning scripts must be prepared and followed. Priority should be given to the live production IT environment, and back-out procedures should be in place to ensure an optimal mean time to recovery (MTTR) in case of a power down event.
  • Seasonal testing of the systems should be performed to verify performance in a variety of climatic conditions, including extreme ambient conditions. This also ensures that economizers, where used, will be tested properly.

DATA CENTER COMMISSIONING VALIDATES YOUR INVESTMENT

A well-planned and executed commissioning program will help validate the capital investment in the facility from the construction of the initial building and the infrastructure added over time to expand its capacity. It will also put the operations team in a far better position to manage and operate the critical infrastructure for the rest of the data center’s useful life, and ultimately ensure that the facility realizes its full potential.

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