The electrical distribution room with UPS system at the Community Health Network data center in Indianapolis.
Data center projects require extraordinary planning and technical expertise. In this second part of a two-part online exclusive series, authors Fred Jaeckle and Brian Nuehring walk through the process of creating a new data center or expanding an existing one to serve a healthcare system, one of the fastest-growing users of data centers.
Planning and construction
As data centers become bigger and more sophisticated, they require more power and generate much more heat per square foot than today’s facilities. There are “green” equipment choices now available to help mitigate the operating costs of data centers, such as higher voltage European-style equipment that operates on less amperage and requires less electricity than traditional American-made equipment.
Power needs and heat generation also have major implications for data floor design and usage, as well as cooling, electrical, and power systems design. Keeping data centers cooled is no easy task, particularly when the computing equipment and floor layout creates numerous “hot spots” that must be addressed.
Air and water-based cooling systems are both available, although the water-based systems are now in greater demand due to their cooling efficiency and lower overall energy usage. Both options have green features, such as reuse and recirculation of air and water. However, air-based cooling systems do require the use of chemical refrigerants. The design and implementation of these systems requires a contractor with a strong sense of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing expertise.
A knowledgeable and experienced CM/GC plays a vitally important role in the planning and construction of a successful data center. The CM/GC has the broad perspective required to create the project’s parameters with inputs from the planning team, which typically includes the owner, architect, engineer, mechanical contractor, and electrical contractor. Every major decision made in the planning stage directly affects other key decisions down the line, so bringing the entire planning team together early in the planning process results in the most effective and efficient responses to a data center’s overall needs.
Be prepared for what’s to come
Selection of the best location for a health system data center requires understanding and balancing a variety of important factors. The first big consideration is whether to locate the facility on the health system’s campus or at a remote location. An on-campus location usually allows for sharing on-site electrical power, HVAC systems, and fiber optic networks—often at a reduced cost compared to purchasing them at a remote site.
The campus also must have the available real estate to accommodate the data center and any future expansion plans. Space often is at a premium on health system campuses, with priority usually given to current and future patient care facilities. PHOTO CREDIT: Rollins Construction Co. The Community Health Network data center was built and completed in 2010 by S.M. Wilson & Co. with assistance from its wholly owned subsidiary Rollins Construction Co. On the other hand, a remote site usually offers greater security opportunities. Most data centers do not want to attract outside attention due to the potential for damage that could be inflicted upon a health system by malfeasance. Many data centers are purposely located off-campus for this reason, and the exteriors are often designed to look very dull. In addition, a carefully selected remote site can offer reduced exposure to potential earthquakes and other natural disasters. However, the site must be easily accessible in the event of a disaster.
Building a data center also requires the purchase of significant information technology hardware, plus electrical and mechanical equipment not found in most commercial construction projects. Many such components require long lead times from purchase through delivery, and thus must be purchased prior to the start of construction.
For example, most health system data centers require two large and custom-built power generators, an elaborate and custom-designed cooling system combining both air and water sources, electrical power switching gear, uninterrupted power supply equipment, raised access floor equipment, and other specialized equipment. The lead time from order through delivery for power generators typically takes 9-10 months, while cooling systems and switching gear typically take up to 6 months.
This means the equipment must usually be ordered well before ground is broken on the building's construction. And once the facility is built and the equipment is installed, it usually takes another 6-12 months to test the systems and store the data before the data center goes on-line.
If a new or expanded data center is in your organization’s future, it is essential to understand and plan for the very high level of sophistication and complexities involved. All members of the planning team, including the CM/GC, should be involved at the earliest stages of planning to ensure the best results.
Fred Jaeckle is vice president of pre-construction and estimating and Brian Nuehring is director of estimating for S. M. Wilson & Co., which has completed several new data center projects. For more information, please visit www.smwilson.com . To read Part 1 of this series, please go here.