The Processes of Data Center Construction

FMP Construction MarketingBlog

Data center against a sky backdrop

With the increase in data compiled and processed by businesses big and small, data centers have become a critical inclusion in many business plans.

Some companies have turned to colocation, but its hidden costs can make it a counter-intuitive investment.

Data center construction has not changed much since the construction of the first massive server farm, but the role they play has evolved immensely.

To protect the value of your equipment and data, a good construction methodology should be followed. Your facility needs far more than just a solid foundation.

This guide will outline the steps and considerations involved in data center construction, from the planning stage to completion.


Assessment

Before you even begin planning your data center project, you should carefully assess your business’s needs.

Here are some key questions to answer:

How Many Servers Would Cover Your Computing Requirements?

The amount of cloud computing your company does will determine the number of servers needed to host your data.

Before constructing your new data center facility, you will need to ensure that the building is big enough to fit your equipment.

Are you looking to build a hyperscale data center with mission-critical facilities, or simple data infrastructure to keep your small team connected?

Your answer to this question will significantly impact your project’s design.

Are You Planning to Expand in the Future?

Most often, the answer to this question for any company is yes.

Even if the company itself isn’t planning a literal expansion in size, technology does not allow us to sit still.

A good example of this is the introduction of the 5G network. Many companies had to increase the size of their centers and adjust the equipment inside to keep up with this new technology.

It is always more cost-efficient to include extra space in the build-out of our new facilities instead of having to add on later.

How Complex Are Your Data Security Needs?

The nature of your business will determine the complexity of your data security.

Will your IT needs include HIPAA protection?

Do you deal with sensitive information?

If so, your data center design should include additional layers of protection from cyber threats.

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Data Center?

Most data centers cost $300-$500 per square foot, but costs vary depending on several factors.

Here are just a few of them:

  • Snow/wind loads
  • Type of insulated panels used
  • Roof type (EPDM or metal)
  • Structural requirements

Keep in mind that when we say $300-$500 per square foot, we’re exclusively referring to the construction of the building itself, not the actual data storage technology.

For a better idea of how much your data center would cost, talk to one of our specialists for a job quote today.

Planning

Data center interior

Once you’ve determined your data center needs, the next step is to dig deeper into the planning process. There are several things to consider in this stage.

The main thing to solidify is your site location. Before you can have digital realty, you need to complete the procurement of actual real estate.

How to Find the Perfect Location for Your Data Center

There are several things to consider as you search for a location:

For one, this piece of land must offer sufficient access to water and a power supply that will support all of your data center operations.

You’ll want to consider the topography of the land, as this could create some hitches in your construction plans. Hills and slopes will require more work and more money in the initial stages.

You’ll also want to choose a plot of land in an area with a neutral natural disaster profile. The smaller the possibility of earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes, the better.

There should also be a service provider in the area offering fiber connectivity. It does no good to have a data center in the middle of nowhere, safe from natural disasters but unable to run due to lack of internet access.

Speaking of, you’ll also want to consider accessibility. Your data center’s location should be far enough from cities for security reasons but close enough for safety reasons.

It may seem like a lot to consider, but according to this article, site selection is the foundation of your business continuity strategy.

The best practice is to find multiple locations that match your requirements and revisit your choices after the design process is complete to choose the best one.

After choosing the final site, you’ll need to research the permits required and deadlines.


Design

Datacenter interior lit up from blue LED lights

Now comes the fun part. It’s time to get to the drawing table and design your facility, taking into consideration the data center solutions you require.

This step may seem overwhelming at times, with the sheer amount of information that needs to be digested and the technical planning required.

However, taking extra time in this stage is not a bad idea, considering that this is where you ensure the efficiency, security, and sustainability of your facility.

Physical Needs

Your first task on the list is to map out your floor space. You’ll need to determine the dimensions of the building, the number of floors the building will have, and the size of each room.

It is vital that you make this floor plan scalable. Always add more floor space than you need so that you will have some cushion for future expansion.

This video goes into depth about what to include in your floor plan.

You’ll need to determine how many electronic cabinets you’ll need. Look into newer, more compact servers that take up less space.

After you figure that out, you can easily determine how many racks you’ll need to coincide with the cabinets.

Will you be storing the wires and cables above or below?

Below requires raised floors, and above requires adequate rafter room. Keep this in mind in your design process.

It is important to make the space functional and easy for anyone working inside to navigate.

Power System

A crucial system to any data center is the power system. You’ll need to design your data center to draw enough power to function efficiently.

Your PUE level should be less than two. This number measures your data center’s power usage effectiveness. In other words, it tells you how much of your power is going to the servers versus any auxiliary components.

The more powerful your servers are, the more power they require.

Can you use alternative energy sources?

Data storage uses a lot of electricity at this scale, so green data centers using renewable energy are becoming more popular.

Every data center should install backup power. This can include a UPS system, but should also include generators.

Redundancy best practices are to have two generators — one powered by natural gas and one powered by diesel. This will drastically cut the chances of your data center losing power.

Cooling Systems

Climate control is a must to keep a data center running smoothly. These servers need to stay cool and dry.

Just as with power sources, redundant cooling systems should also be set in place.

Water cooling is more effective than A/C units, but A/C units are usually less faulty.

Airflow design helps to reduce the cost of either cooling system.

Also, new findings have shown that data centers don’t need to be as cool as previously thought.

In fact, a slightly higher temperature won’t put your servers at risk of overheating, but this needs to be carefully managed to prevent hot spots from forming.

Read more about the intricate temperature regulation needs for efficient and sustainable data centers here.

Security

It is always important that you have good physical security measures in place. This includes cameras as well as secure entrances and exits.

A barrier fence or thick concrete wall is also a good idea.

A dry agent fire protection system should be installed, as well as lighting protection.

As far as your network security goes, you need an impenetrable firewall, secure ACLs and IDSs, and regular backup and data encryption.

Building Management System

A BMS is a system that alerts responsible parties when the environment in the data center gets dangerous, especially during off-duty hours.

It can also act on its own to rectify some of these situations.

For example, if one of the cooling units shuts down, the BMS will automatically turn on the backup cooling system.

A BMS can be a great asset to the management of a data center and, depending on the capabilities, can really streamline many processes.

Read more about the possibilities of using a BMS in your new data center here.


Construction

Once you have a vision in your head and a floor plan written on paper, it’s time to commission a construction company to build your data center.

You want a general contractor with good communication and project management skills, as they’ll keep your new center on track and update you about its progress.

One of the biggest factors to consider in hiring is the type of material that will be used. In the construction industry, some contractors specialize in concrete buildings, while others specialize in steel.

Although there is a constant debate about whether steel or concrete is the superior building material, they both have their strengths and weaknesses.

Concrete is by far the most fire-resistant. It also bears up against natural disasters better.

Concrete construction also provides the option of using precast or tilt-up construction methods, which will save time and manpower in the construction process.

Steel, on the other hand, is lighter and easier to transport than concrete. It is not as fire-resistant as concrete, but you can spray a fire protectant on the surface of the steel to increase its safety rating.

Of course, due to the movement to green data centers, recycled materials are highly encouraged. These materials include salvaged stone, brick, and recycled steel.

You can also insulate your building in an eco-friendly way by choosing natural fiber insulation or cellulose insulation in place of fiberglass.

Of course, to take these greener building steps, you’ll need to discuss the possibilities more thoroughly with your construction company.


Conclusion

There is no doubt that a high-quality building is needed to protect a company’s data from threats.

However, the efficiency and sustainability of your data center largely revolve around its design.

Building a data center isn’t as straightforward as other types of construction projects, as there are strict industry standards that must be followed.

With a good contractor on your team, your company will have a facility that’s both secure and energy-efficient.

Want to build a data center in the Colorado area? Contact us today for a commercial construction quote!