Physical Security is necessary

At Global Tech Trends, we have decided to start a series of blogposts that gives in-detail information about the essentials of building and managing a data center. As data center, has recently gained a lot of traction. This article is the first of the series and we are sure you will gain good information with this effort. It is an important article for students who love to read about tech and even readers who are curious to know about ingredients of data center. It is also a helpful manual for businesses who are looking to meet the needs of their company by building a new data center.

Every organization must answer below questions before setting up a data center for itself. Some of the major questions has been answered below to best of our knowledge. We would really appreciate any value add in the answers (do comment/mail us your feedback):

data-center-plan

  • Best location suited for opening up a data center?
  • What kind of data center are we going to build?
  • What all technology will we need to have in it?
  • What will be the operating temperature of machines?

Let us start finding answers to all these questions now:

Location for Data Center

A question that is of foremost concern for every organization as the physical location will play a vital role if business decides to go forward with the plan of building one data center for itself.  The key factors that needs to be considered for analyzing or formulating an answer for this questions are:

  1. Company’s Strategy
  2. Financial implication of opening a data center.

A company can build a data center from scratch or it may choose ‘The retrofit’ option. Which simply means setting up of data center in an already existing building. Most companies prefer the first approach which is helpful in building an infrastructure that precisely meets the needs of data center as planned. It helps in reaching better energy parameters and gaining higher levels of certifications. One important thing that a company must take into consideration is that the given location must be considered pertaining to future growth possibilities. Also, it should lie in seismically stable geographical areas and areas that are not prone to any natural catastrophe.

Every company willing to start data center of its own must ensure that it meets globally accepted standards while at the same time having flexibility to change from time to time as per business needs. Most widely used standard in this case is ANSI/TIA-942 standard that details specifications for planning and setting up of data centers. Given below are the reasons for which companies prefer TIA-942 standards:

  • Real standard, issued by non-profit organization
  • Accredited by ANSI (American National Standards Institute)
  • Transparent being available to public
  • Covers all features of a physical data center such as architecture, location of site, safety, security, electrical, mechanical and so on.
  • The standard establishes a set formula of building a reliable and efficient data center

It is recommended to opt for a site that provides uninterrupted access to internet connectivity and most importantly the electrical needs are met 24×7 with a full time back-up. Companies like Facebook, Google and Apple have set examples by creation of green data centers by opting for renewable energy resources and other improvisations in their data center plans.

Anyhow, coming back to the topic of high-quality access, the company must have a provision for two independent optical fiber tracks laid underground which is costly but highly advisable in case your plan makes you dependent upon electrical energy source.

The retrofit approach on the other hand is cost saving but the buildings existing condition can be a limitation for future plans. Inspection of structural strength of premises is a pre-requisite that can’t be skipped. The load bearing capacity of floors must be checked thoroughly. Even the load bearing capacity of roof needs to be examined as it will hold air conditioning appliances which are crucial for cooling of data center at all times.

Understanding the Tier System

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Power – The Real Gamechanger

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Power to data center is like soul to body. This is why they must possess at-least two independent energy routes. To make sure that power remains uninterrupted a company must have its own set of substations. The electric energy passes via substation through APS (automatic transfer switch) which is connected with a diesel generator and thereafter into UPS units (containing battery modules of their own). Small sized companies or in cases where budget is the constraint, one substation can suffice but then every machine must be dual powered via two independent routes. For large sized data centers, using more than 2MW of power can drop the idea of UPS with battery modules and rather opt for rotary or dynamic UPS which are known to provide battery-less power solutions.

modular-ups

The UPS units must be kept in a different area as they require lesser operational temperature. When buying UPS units, company must consider buying Modular UPS as they have provision to add modules which is quite helpful for any future expansion of data center.

Cooling – Why is it so important for your data center?

data-center-cooling

Cooling is another important aspect of a data center. A general rule of thumb is to have double flooring and a system of hot and cold aisles. Cold aisles need to be kept on upper end so that cold and air do not mix. The placement of server racks should be in such a manner that they receive cold air from front ends. It is generally known as front-back system. With the help of double flooring, cold air is led to the right place (just where it is required) while at the same time hiding the metallic cables. Special plastic troughs must contain optical fibers over the racks.

Most companies these days are preferring  free cooling methodology. In which data centers cooling is done using outside cold air. At one hand, such a system helps in cooling the entire system and components and on the other hand it helps saving electric energy which in absence of such an arrangement would be required for cooling. A good example of the same is Luleå data center in northern Sweden set up by Facebook.

Cooling with natural air is even helpful in cases where difference between data center temperature and outside temperature is just few degrees. Special glycol based circuits play an important role in achieving cooling in such conditions.

While the above arrangements can easily be chosen by larger companies, the smaller ones with budget constraints can serve the purpose of cooling by opting for normal DX (direct expansion) air conditioning. These units are available at cheaper rates but tend to be costly in longer run. Still they are useful in cooling lesser amounts of heat.

Kip and Gary Data Center Cartoon by Diane Alber
Kip and Gary Data Center Cartoon by Diane Alber

Few helpful tips for setting up a data center:

  • Choose a site which does not come in flooding area/high-risk seismic zones
  • Check load bearing capacities of building in case you are following a retrofit approach (both for floors and roofs)
  • Ensure high voltage power availability
  • Two ready optical fiber routes
  • Ensure there remain no leaks in aisles
  • Check energy conversion efficiency of all machines
  • Keep revising everything on regular basis
  • Make sure that all employees are well trained and have undergone safety procedures
  • Analyze all inputs & outputs

Safety from Fire

fire-safety-data-center

  • Fire alarms even in smallest server rooms
  • Fire extinguishers for electric appliances
  • Automatic fire and heat detection systems in case of medium-sized data centers

Ensuring Physical Safety

security

  • Coded doors
  • Staff access parameters
  • surveillance cameras
  • Restricted access
  • Security personnel at important sub-locations of data center

There are things that you need to take care of after setting up of data center. What all you need to keep in mind? Don’t worry as we will soon come up with next blog post in this series which will highlight things like cloud building and virtualization of hardware. Stay tuned and let us know your questions on feedback on this topic in the comments section below.

to-be-continued

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