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Mon 16 Jun 2008 04:00 AM

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Datacentre designs

A lot hinges on getting the design phase of a datacentre right. Whether an enterprise decides to do it alone or calls in a consultant, the key to success might lie with having a clear set of goals and enforcing coordinated effort.

A lot hinges on getting the design phase of a datacentre right. Whether an enterprise decides to do it alone or calls in a consultant, the key to success might lie with having a clear set of goals and enforcing coordinated effort.

When you are building a datacentre, design is often the place to start. It is essential for enterprises, especially ones that are implementing greenfield datacentres, to put in the requisite effort to ensure efficient datacentre design. However, getting design right is easier said than done.

"Designing a datacentre is not just about the IT systems. It involves everything from the location of the datacentre in the organisation's premises, to where each piece of equipment will go, how cables will be laid and how power and cooling issues will be handled," points out Herbert Radlinger, general manager for the Middle East at Schnabel AG.

A datacentre is not just any other room. It is one where the entire information technology set-up of the organisation is housed. This in turn means that organisations will need to pay attention not just to how many servers and storage elements they need, but also how the datacentre can be equipped to handle them.

"The planning and design phase of datacentre projects are crucial to the successful implementation of these projects. It is therefore advisable to spend a considerable amount of time during this phase to properly plan such large-scale projects and thus avoid the high costs associated with future corrections of poorly designed plans," says Wael El Nadi, technology solutions manager at EMC in the region.

Working your way forward

The scale of datacentre projects and their importance to the organisation require that enterprises, which set out to build their own, need to consider a number of elements.

"The normal course of things is that the business strategy drives the apps, the apps drive the hardware, which drive the infrastructure, and that drives the building design and location.

I would say to an IT manager who is starting off to make sure that he understands that he is part of the overall business strategy and success, and consider how he can contribute," states Richard Sawyer, VP of EYP. The company, which offers a range of consulting and design services for datacentres, was recently acquired by HP.

"There are several things that firms need to consider when designing a datacentre.

They have to understand the initial requirements and the projected growth, the size of the room, the electrical system, the mechanical system, grounding infrastructure, cable containment for power and telecom, structured cabling system, security and redundancy of systems among others," states Alexandre Regnard, senior consultant at PMK International.

Most problems that arise in a datacentre can be traced back to initial mistakes made in the design phase - and enterprises can make a lot of them.

"The two most common mistakes is that enterprises either over-design or under-design their datacentres. Some people will go in and say they need a Tier 4, highly reliable datacentre when actually their business does not need that. And the converse is also true," says Sawyer.

"Location is one of the key considerations in setting up a datacentre. This is where most enterprises make mistakes. Everything else can possibly be rectified but a bad location can not," says Radlinger.

Unsuitable locations include car parks or the top floors of high-rise buildings. Datacentres are always better deployed and managed closer to the ground. Enterprises also need to consider the capacity of the raised floor to take on load as the density of their IT systems increase.

They should invest in modular systems that can easily accommodate adds, moves and changes as required.

Additionally, they need to ensure proper coordination between all services such as mechanical, electrical, plumbing, telecommunications, management and maintenance.

"One of the other fundamental mistakes we are seeing now is that people are not respecting the amount of computing power that is going into IT equipment. We used to see 1.2 to 2 kilowatts per rack, now we are seeing 15 to 24 kilowatts per rack.

An electric range in your home when you turn everything on is maybe 4 kilowatts. People don't respect either the amount of power that goes into IT equipment or conversly the cooling capacity that is needed," states Sawyer.

He adds that companies should build to achieve higher efficiencies from IT systems, simply because there is only a limited amount of power that is going to come into any building.

He also warns that with the frenetic pace of construction in the Middle East, enterprises should consider their environment and account for it in the initial phase."Many companies are eager to see quick results, particularly when investing a large portion of the IT budget in a major datacentre design or implementation project.

However, it is important that companies realise that short-term gains and a quick RoI should not be the focus, and that these are not good indicators of a project's success.

Along the same lines, it is important not to go for "cheaper" solutions by under sizing foot space, power or cooling supplies. A focus on short-term cost savings may not accommodate future growth, changes in technology and the need to be flexible," says El Nadi.

A helping hand

It is because of the importance of datacentres to organisations and the many complications that can arise from building one on their own that many enterprises opt to hire a third-party consultant to help them.

EYP prides itself on being one of the few companies worldwide which offers a comprehensive range of services focused on datacentres, and targeted at both IT and facilities teams.

"Many consultants in the business don't have a tenth of the analytical tools that we use. We use modelling tools for everything - whether it is the reliability issue, the energy issue or airflow consideration - whatever it might be.

We present all statistical analysis to clients to make sure they are making an informed choice based on their business goals.

Then we start to stitch the design alternatives together. When people design in a more conventional way, enterprises are likely to face some problems in the future," states Steven Einhorn, chairman and president of EYP.

He adds that the company also provides a masterplan for enterprises to help in their long range planning.

"All EMC service offerings follow a ‘plan, build, manage' approach to ensure proper design, effective implementation and value-based measurement of datacentre transformation projects.

uring the plan phase, we ensure that IT is aligned to business requirements and that IT services are well defined. This is also the phase during which the datacentre strategy is validated," says El Nadi.

Reganard says: "We first understand client needs and expectations as well as their budget considerations. We then assess a suitable location and plan for better datacentre availability, ensure tier classification, work out how many rooms the datacentre will need and the expected life span of the same."

Schnabel also follows a detailed process in designing a client's datacentre.

"All of this is defined in the initial project development phase, and during this phase we work both with the IT management team as well as the facilities management.

We do an assessment workshop followed by growth modelling, based on the requirements stated by the business units.

Taking into consideration the growth for the future, the application requirements, the hardware and software requirements as well as the power, space and cooling requirements, we will then sit down to design the datacentre," says Radlinger.

Consultants often fashion their processes on the basis of the requirements of international datacentre standards, including TIA and ISO. When designing a datacentre, consultants take efforts to effect knowledge transfer to the internal IT team of organisations as well.

"We try to make them part of our team and thereby ensure they are included in key decision making. We ensure their comments and wish lists are taken into consideration as much as practicable without ignoring who the designer is" says Regnard.

According to Radlinger, regular meetings are held between the team from Schnabel and a client's team to update them on progress and to ensure smooth flow of knowledge between the concerned parties.Consultants like Schnabel also follow up with the client, through implementation and post-deployment, to ensure that everything is running as it should and to help out where assistance is needed.

All of this considered, the initial cost of employing a consultant balances out in the return on investment from a well-designed datacentre.

"In a large project, the consulting fees can be from 3.5% to 5% of the cost of a project. In smaller projects, it could go upto 8% to 10%. But by using the modelling tools and the experience, you are going to save multiples of that by avoiding mistakes in the future," points out Einhorn.

In the right direction

More than anything else, the key to effective datacentre design might lie with an enterprise making enough time to plan for one properly. Considering the tight timelines under which most IT teams work, that might be in short supply.

"In addition to not allocating the time and resources for proper design, another common mistake that hinders project success is the lack of understanding of the business requirements.

After all, it is these business requirements that must drive the technology. For example, it is important to capture application recovery time objectives and recovery point objectives so that the corresponding hardware is in place to meet these requirements.

For brand new datacentre implementations, it is furthermore important to make the initial investment up front, as it is in fact cheaper in the long run, particularly when you factor in the efficiency and "economic" gains that are realised with such implementations," explains EMC's El Nadi.

CIOs or IT managers also need to take a strong leadership role when designing an initial datacentre or transforming an existing one, and this needs to be well-communicated across the relevant organisation.

Designing a datacentre on its own can be a daunting task for any enterprise, especially when it is the first for the firm. The scope of the project, the various elements to be considered and the intense coordination that is required across departments can put off most people and often lead to unsuccessful projects.

However, enterprises can make a success of datacentre design, followed by successful deployment and management, only if they stick to a structure and work together towards a common goal.

Datacentre design guidelinesPlan ahead - you don't want to be caught out in a datacentre

Location - make sure that your datacentre will be built as close to the ground floor as possible

Adhere to simplicity - simple designs are easier to roll-out, manage and support. The simpler the design, the easier it becomes to find and fix problems

Keep flexibility in mind - Remember that technology changes and upgrades happen

Consider weight - make sure that you have accounted for the immense nature of servers and storage, and that your raised floors and ramps can support needs for now and the future

Use stronger materials - keeping weight in mind, design your datacentre with special materials that can handle weight better in the long terms

Put on labels - this should be strictly followed, especially for cables. You will count that as a blessing when problems arise or when you have to trace cables in the raised floor.

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