How to Get the Most Out of Data Center Assessments

Posted by Chris Parlee on Nov 11, 2014

By Jim Stark, P.E., Principal of Engineering, Electronic Environments

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Why do a data center assessment? When is the best time to perform an assessment? Are there different assessment types? Who should be involved in a data center assessment? Are there specific standards to use? How long should the assessment take? What should an assessment cost?

These are excellent questions that can help the Data Center Owner/Operator quantify the anticipated benefits of an assessment and determine the reasons to do an assessment in the 
first place. 

Today’s data center operator is required to manage the constant change of technology that users are bringing into the data center. A data center assessment is an integral tool to help the data center manager ensure that their facility is operating at its peak performance with regards to reliability, availability, energy efficiency, operational efficiency and space/power/cooling capacities. Additionally, a business decision might force the data center manager into needing an assessment. Examples include:

  • Data center consolidation
  • Selling, acquiring, or building a data center
  • Expanding an existing data center
  • Changes in equipment power density and/or reliability needs
  • Server equipment upgrades
  • IT system network changes
  • Real estate decision(s)
  • Considerations to move to a third-party/cloud provider
  • Changes in the operations team
The data center manager must decide which type of assessment to implement and its scope. There are a number of assessments available:
  • Critical infrastructure (power, cooling, and life safety systems)
  • Architectural space constraints (white space and equipment spaces)
  • Tier-rating and single points of failure; maintenance program(s)
  • Security systems
  • Staffing and training programs
  • Change management process reviews
  • IT systems reviews – which could include data center architecture (server performance, virtualization, system availability, server farm architecture, scalability, network design, and storage area networking)

Given the interrelated nature of data center infrastructure, our recommendation is to use a holistic approach to assessments. This is in contrast to, for example, an assessment on a specific piece of equipment or system. In addition to documenting the performance of a larger portion of the data center, a broader assessment (often including critical infrastructure, management systems, and IT systems) is more comprehensive and often will uncover unexpected issues.

A successful data center assessment plan and review should include all stakeholders. Having everyone at the table at the same time, helps to get the most out of the assessment, avoids miscommunications, and facilitates decision making. This team could include:

  • Data Center Manager
  • IT Operations Manager
  • MEP Systems Facilities Manager
  • Design/Construction Manager
  • Expert third-party MEP engineer (electrical/mechanical)
  • IT consultant
  • Experienced data center architect (for white space/equipment room evaluations)

Today, there are several standards that should be used in evaluating assessment results. This gives a yardstick to compare site performance to. It gives a context to interpret results and identify improvement areas. Some standards include:

  • TIA-942
  • Uptime Institute Tier Standard
  • Several related to security of data including: PCI Data Security; HIPAA/HITECH security standards; FISMA federal government security standard

The type of assessment, i.e. facilities or IT, typically steers the team into using a specific standard. Also, the facility type may warrant the standard selected. For example, a health care data center end user may require the team to use HIPAA as a baseline for IT systems supplemented by the use of TIA-942 for critical MEP systems.

The timeframe for a data center assessment could vary depending on the overall goal. For example, an enterprise user could engage an engineering expert to assess the overall reliability of a third-party colocation facility. Depending on the size of the facility; the timeframe to engage the consultant, for them to visit the site, and deliver a report could take one to two weeks. However, a data center manager may want to fully assess an existing data center including critical infrastructure (power/cooling); security; risks (i.e., single points of failure); MEP systems capacities; IT system assessments; and an overall broad view risk assessment. This type of project could take four to six weeks to implement, not including presentations to stakeholders.

Finally, how does a data center determine costs for a data center assessment? This will vary, based on the project objectives and overall scope of the assessment. On one end of the spectrum, a typical MEP assessment for a small, Tier 2 site may cost only $10,000. The cost will rise if the project includes an assessment of both MEP critical infrastructure and IT system architecture/networks. This type of assessment for a large Tier 3 data center may reach as much at $100,000.

Selecting the right assessment and scope, involving all stakeholders and determining the most appropriate standards to evaluate results, will help to ensure your site performance is maximized and gives you a strong foundation for meeting future demands of your site. To learn more about assessments visit our site.

Tags: Data Center, Data Centers, Upgrade, Tier, Standards, Readiness, assessment, MEP