What’s Different about Data Center Cx?


By: John Whitfield, VP Quality/Training, and Terry L. Rodgers, CPE, CPMP
VP, Sustainable Operations Services, Primary Integration Solutions, Inc.

Data centers have a high requirement for reliability and availability due to the necessity of continuous operations with designs and installations that are fault tolerant and allow for concurrent maintainability. This equates to a much higher degree of redundancy, fail-over and backup systems, and more complex automation and associated sequences-of-operations.

Commissioning of data centers differs somewhat from commercial office buildings and other non-critical facilities. Whereas acceptance testing of a typical non-critical facility focuses on ensuring everything works correctly, the testing of critical facilities must also ensure that equipment and systems fail correctly. This means that when utility power fails, emergency power systems start and assume the load; when chillers fail, redundant equipment and/or systems start and assume the load, and that the data center and associated mission critical operations continue without interruption. The commissioning provider must have a different mindset than one who is not experienced in commissioning critical facilities.

These processes and change-overs are determined in the owner’s project requirements (OPR), programming and design phases.

Progress Inspections
The commissioning provider should lead progress inspections attended by the owner (or owner’s representative), the engineer of record and architect, as well as the general contractor and subcontractor representatives. The commissioning provider should record these inspections and any issues and discrepancies identified in a formal tracking log.

Factory Witness Testing
Most data center projects include factory witness testing (FWT) of some of the more critical and/or complex equipment such as emergency generators, UPS modules, paralleling switchgear, and chillers. The commissioning provider should ensure the vendor’s proposed test procedures reflect project-specific performance requirements and if not, that these scripts get revised and embellished appropriately to ensure the equipment is proved to perform as required prior to shipment to the site.

Acceptance Testing
As the equipment and systems are made ready for startup, the commissioning provider will deliver formal acceptance test procedures that verify that systems and equipment will perform as required. A recognized best practice is to have the commissioning provider develop site specific startup scripts (aka “pre-functional test” scripts) and to witness the equipment startup.

Testing Schedule
The commissioning provider should manage the testing schedule to ensure that components and equipment are tested prior to testing systems, and that systems are tested and proven prior to proceeding to integrated testing. In other words, all pre-functional testing must be completed (including resolution of identified discrepancies) before proceeding to functional testing, and that all functional testing (including resolution of identified discrepancies) is completed for the equipment that makes up a system prior to proceeding to integrated systems testing (IST).

Process Documentation
The commissioning process is not only focused on delivering the physical facility, but also on ensuring the entire process of design, construction, and testing is documented and recorded. This not only includes ensuring that accurate as-built drawings (aka “record drawings”) and O&M binders are delivered, but that the entire process is documented. Final project closeout documents should include the OPR, BOD, record drawings, final specifications, approved submittals, pre-functional tests (including air and water testing, adjusting, and balancing (TAB) reports), completed functional and IST test scripts, written sequences of operations, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and other site specific documentation that provides the owner and O&M staff a comprehensive description of the facility and how it is intended to perform for posterity.

Operation and Maintenance Training
The commissioning process ensures that the facility O&M staff receive formal, site specific training on how to operate and maintain the site. Again, since data centers are more complex and have more demanding operational requirements, the respective training needs of the O&M staff are higher than for commercial building staff. It is therefore important that the training provided not be generic, but that it is tailored to address the site-specific conditions, topologies, and emergency response procedures required to maintain critical operations during planned system and equipment maintenance as well as unplanned outages.

Ideally the training is performed in a structured manner that includes academic sessions in a classroom environment during construction, hand-on and/or observation sessions during the startup and acceptance testing phase, and includes formal staff testing and certification prior to the site transitioning to critical operations. All training materials and sessions should be recorded and in editable formats so it can be repeated as refresher and remedial training for existing staff as well as for new hires as part of their onboarding process, and can be updated as the site evolves over time.

As the commissioning process starts at the very onset of a new construction initiative and ends when the site transitions into operational status; the commissioning provider should be the first one in, and the last one out.

  1. David L Lewis

    Well presented article.

    We also test for failures in all buildings we do, including data centers. One item that we do on every type of building is that after functional testing is completed we have the Power Company kill the power to the building – just like a data center. We often find problems in the systems when this is done.

    One odd problem we had a few years back – when the Power Company pulled their switch, the generator came on as planned, but so did the fire pump.

    While most electrical contractors will try to not have to do this, many Power Companies welcome the test. We often have food and coffee for them because “sometimes” it takes a while for this test.

  2. Joy Butler

    With all the data breaches that have been in the news lately, it is becoming more and more important to make sure that we find a data storage facility for our business that goes above and beyond when it comes to protecting their data. I am definitely looking for someone who understands the importance of making sure, if there IS a failure, the system fails correctly, as it says here. That is such a huge deal and not enough people realize that planning for things to go wrong is just as important as trying to stop them going wrong in the first place.

  3. Enterprise Systems

    Your topic is very interesting and informative for readers. You have shared very important things about the Data Center Cx. If you want to know more you can visit us .

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