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The Processes of Building A Datacenter

  • October 25, 2023

The demand for datacenters is on the rise. 

If you’re a mid-to-large enterprise and don’t already have your own datacenter, chances are you’re looking to build one soon. Or perhaps your company has simply outgrown its current data solutions.

Building a datacenter is a significant undertaking. In fact, datacenters are among the most expensive and complex assets a company can possess. 

With this in mind, there should be no room for error. Let’s discuss what you’ll need to know before you begin constructing your datacenter.

Contents:

1. The Main Components of a Datacenter Facility

2. A Word About Site Selection

3. How to Build a Datacenter

4. How Much Does it Cost to Build a Datacenter?

5. How Long Does a Datacenter Build Take?

The Main Components of a Datacenter Facility

Every modern datacenter requires standard components that are necessary to function. Below is an overview of each component and what they entail. 

Space

Every datacenter needs ample space. However, calculating how many square feet you need for a datacenter is not as simple as some may think. 

Consider the size of every individual piece of equipment you’ll need to keep your datacenter’s operations running smooth. Calculate not only the floor space, but also how high the ceilings should be.

Determine the square footage of your floor space by how you plan to arrange your server stacks. You’ll want to keep subdivisions in mind to aid airflow and control the room’s temperature and climate.

Floor height — in other words, the distance between the floor and ceiling — needs to be high enough to house racks, cabinets, cables, and an HVAC system. 

Some prefer to use raised floors that make room for cables underneath, while others prefer to store their cables in the rafters with their cooling system. 

Power

A datacenter uses a lot of power. For that reason, power distribution is among the most significant elements of datacenter design. 

Power providers will, of course, be the first source of power. But you’ll also need to install sources of uninterruptible backup power in the event of an outage.

A datacenter will also need exceptional network connectivity. Research your site’s local internet service providers to find one that offers the best and most reliable service level.

Cooling

Another essential datacenter function? Keeping your equipment cool.

Overheating can cause a catastrophic disaster. This could lead to equipment malfunction as well as the loss of highly valuable data.

For this reason, most datacenters use more than one method to keep their equipment cool. 

Air conditioning should be your first line of defense. Make sure that your server and rack layout takes airflow into consideration. 

Your next line of defense should be to install a free cooling system. This is one of the best cooling methods available, especially in the wintertime when the outside cold air can do wonders for hot machinery. 

Most data centers include a number of other cooling systems, including but not limited to chillers, liquid immersion cooling, and solar cooling. 

Insulation and a vapor barrier can help regulate internal temperatures, as well. 

Safety

Datacenters must be extremely disaster tolerant. That means they should have protections in place against damage from earthquakes, flooding, tornadoes, and snowstorms. 

For that reason, the building that houses your datacenter should be resilient and durable. 

Likewise, it’s best if your datacenter design includes a complex fire suppression system to protect the equipment in the event of a fire. 

The room layout should also ensure that datacenter operators have easy and unobstructed access to all machinery and emergency exits.

Infrastructure

Where will your datacenter’s components live, and how will you arrange them? These questions are the foundation of datacenter infrastructure.

As discussed earlier in the article, infrastructure is the number one factor when calculating the square footage of your floor plan. It also dictates the distribution of power to every router and servers.  

The layout must also be functional for end users, such as your IT department or datacenter operators.

The Uptime Institute is the leading authority in datacenter infrastructure and provides an extensive library of information and guidance. 

A Word About Site Selection

Most construction projects urge you to choose your real estate first and then design your structure to fit. 

Datacenter projects should do the opposite.

Once you’ve configured the design of your datacenter, select a site that can accommodate it.

You should consider the climate, electrical costs, and local incentives when choosing a site. These factors influence how cost effective your datacenter will be, and reduce the likelihood of weather-related downtime. 

Developers will also need to look at any liabilities or risks related to the property’s location, such as flood zone ratings. Medium or high-risk flood zones could cause serious damage to the datacenter in the future.

When choosing a site, every datacenter developer should first learn the answers to these questions:

  • Is the property at risk for natural or man-made disasters? 
  • What are the local regulations and zoning requirements? 
  • How reliable and robust is the local infrastructure? 

All of the above are key factors that will determine whether you can build your datacenter to your specifications. They also impact whether you’ll be able to make room for future upgrades. 

Building constraints will also need to be taken into consideration. Will the datacenter be greenfield, or will you need to retrofit another building?

Older buildings can be tricky. Even the most diligent inspector cannot see within the walls of a structure. 

Lastly, the site must be able to provide the necessary energy to power the unique needs of your datacenter design. 

A clean, reliable, and cost-effective power supply is an invaluable resource. Your power requirements will depend on many factors, including lighting, climate control, and the scale of your operations.

However, the largest power draw will come from the IT infrastructure itself. 

This is where it can be worthwhile to look at renewable power options like wind or solar.

Read About: Construction Jobsite Safety: What Site Owners and Stakeholders Need to Know

How to Build a Datacenter

How to Build a Datacenter

The actual, physical construction of your new datacenter can be accomplished several ways. 

Below, we’ve outlined some of the most beneficial construction methods for each building component.

Foundation

Datacenters house heavy equipment. Heavy equipment must have a strong foundation with a high load-bearing capacity.

Mat slab concrete foundations are one of the strongest foundations available. They evenly distribute the load across the entire surface of the slab, which can simultaneously serve as the concrete floor to save money.

Have your construction team examine the property’s soil quality to determine if you’ll need to add extra piling.

Shell

It bears repeating that datacenters must be extremely disaster tolerant. 

For that reason alone, we recommend that you choose either concrete or steel for the shell of your structure. 

Concrete is both durable and resilient, as well as more weather resistant. It can protect your datacenter’s interior against natural disasters while controlling its humidity and temperature levels.

Concrete datacenters can also use a precast tilt-up design to hasten the construction timeline. 

By contrast, steel is more flexible and expandable. It has a scalability factor that concrete lacks. Steel is also more sustainable and light, which reduces the shell’s load on the foundation. 

Flooring

When it comes to flooring, you have two choices: raised or slab floors. 

Raised floors create an opportunity to install cables under the floor, which is especially useful if you want to avoid putting them in the ceiling. 

A slab floor is cheaper than a raised floor. It’s also more energy efficient. 

No matter the flooring you choose, it’s in your best interest to coat the concrete with a protectant against dust and static electricity. It will go a long way in protecting the datacenter’s computer equipment from becoming dirty or shorted. 

How many floors will your datacenter need? You can create a datacenter with just one floor, but there are plenty that add floors to maximize their real estate. 

You can use the immediate upper floor for cables, HVAC ducts, cooling fixtures, and any other equipment you want out of the way. 

Some datacenters even include additional floors for offices or storage. 

Keep in mind that the recommended minimum floor-to-ceiling height for a datacenter level is twelve feet.

MEPS

Don’t let your datacenter’s mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems (MEPS) become an afterthought. If anything, these systems are major factors in the design specifications of a datacenter. 

MEPS datacenter installations come with a host of considerations. Below, we break down the requirements for each system.

Electrical

The power supply is the single most important system in a datacenter. Design your electrical system for optimal power usage effectiveness (PUE). 

Power supply specs are also among the most technical features of datacenter design, because they ensure your datacenter has sufficient power. It’s also a task that requires the aid of a professional.

If you are electrically minded or just want to know more about datacenter power supply design, this article should satisfy your curiosity.

You’ll also need a massive amount of cables to deliver the necessary power to your center’s many servers and routers. For safety and efficiency, arrange your cables according to a strict organizational system. 

Datacenter cable management is an industry of its own. Use the correct size and type of cabling to maintain uptime, improve productivity, and increase capacity utilization. 

Sunbird, a datacenter software company, has an in-depth article about datacenter cable management

Mechanical

The HVAC will provide much of your datacenter’s air conditioning and climate control. 

The cooling system can be a complex installation. Systems can be purchased from a vendor and installed per the specs provided, or you can hire a professional to build a cooling system tailored to your needs. 

No expense should be spared when it comes to cooling system quality. However, there are some money-saving options of which you can take advantage – such as free cooling and geothermal cooling.

Plumbing

Although power and cooling are the most critical systems in datacenter design, don’t overlook the importance of good plumbing. Faulty or leaky plumbing can wreak havoc on a datacenter.

Install proper drainage systems that can redirect liquids in the event of any leaks or backups, including sewage issues. 

You must also adjust the plumbing to meet the mechanical system’s needs, such as water pressure, drainage, and backflow requirements.

Mission Critical has a detailed article about the 8 “Do’s and Don’ts” of datacenter plumbing. 

Strive for LEED Certification

Even though datacenters aren’t considered the most environmentally friendly structure, you can still take measures to reduce your energy consumption and improve the sustainability of your datacenter design.

You can even achieve LEED certification. Make your datacenter eco-friendly by using monitoring technology, sustainable materials, and renewable energy sources.

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How Much Does it Cost to Build a Datacenter?

How Much Does it Cost to Build a Datacenter?

According to Digt Infra, the cost to build a datacenter is about $7-12 million dollars per megawatt of workload, or $600 to $1100 per square foot.

These numbers are just averages. Depending on a number of factors, your own datacenter’s building costs may be higher or lower. Square footage and space requirements will have the greatest impact.

Other factors that can influence datacenter build expenses include:

  • Network requirements
  • Electrical Systems
  • Cooling
  • Mechanical
  • Security
  • Location

How Long Does a Datacenter Build Take?

The timeline of a datacenter build-out depends on the type and scale of your proposed design. 

Although the shell or exterior of a datacenter can be completed in 2-3 months, the entire design and building process can take up to a couple of years.


It is vital to build a datacenter that is scalable enough to support the evolution of your company’s infrastructural needs. If colocation datacenters are not an option, you’ll need to build your own. 

With the complexity of this undertaking, it is wise to follow a design-build construction model that prevents miscommunication between architects, engineers, and contractors. 

FMP Construction and their sister company ZP Architects and Engineers have worked together to design and build multiple datacenters. This close collaboration is key to their success, and can be key to the success of your new datacenter.

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