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21.05.2018

Commissioning part two: Seven steps to data centre commissioning heaven

Customers are demanding more from data centre construction projects and commissioning is key to meeting those new requirements.

Part one of this series was an overview of the key benefits of commissioning as well as some of the obstacles and challenges.

In this second part we delve a little deeper into the topic looking at what Future-tech provides in this space as well as getting some input from external experts.

As defined in part one, commissioning is a process that ‘reviews and tests the data centre’s physical infrastructure design as a holistic system in order to assure the highest level of reliability’.

But we believe there are also significant efficiency benefits. By using an organisation such as Future-tech to ensure that systems are running correctly, customers can save up to 67% on facility operational costs.

Plumbing, piping, pumps and associated controls for a large HVAC rooftop installation

Our approach and methodology

Future-tech’s approach to commissioning is explained in detail on our Commissioning pages. We take the view that commissioning is an essential process but one that has to be tailored to fit each individual data centre.

The specific methodology we use for commissioning depends on our involvement in the design stage. However the overall aim is to ensure continuity between the design and operational phases.

Design meets operations

That continuity between design and operations is something that other experts agree is one of the cornerstones of successful commissioning.

Future-tech has a lot of expertise in commissioning services but we also collaborate with, and work alongside, other experts in this crucial area of data centre design and construction including Clear Construction and Primary Integration Solutions.

Glenn Hawkins is the owner of Clear Construction a company that specializes in training and research around the commissioning process.

Clear Construction works with a variety of building clients including data centre operators. Historically commissioning hasn’t been prioritized in the way it should have been but things are changing, according to Hawkins. “Construction project teams have historically delivered a building primarily with the focus on achieving practical completion – building handover on a certain date,” he says. “They hand over whatever building it is – a hospital, a school or a data centre – and disappear into the distance often leaving a client with a building that doesn’t really function efficiently and effectively in the long term

Towards better commissioning

However, gradually there has been an on-going improvement in awareness of the importance of the commissioning process and the quality of commissioning services provided. “Clients have basically woken up to the fact that construction project teams have been short changing them for too long,” says Hawkins.

The direct and indirect costs of data centre failures together with a movement towards ever more efficient facilities has created customer demand for better commissioning services. “The negative impact of a data centre failure can be huge so clients are driving this process,” says Hawkins.

That has also translated into some operators – and even the operator’s customers – have clearly defined requirements around commissioning. “What co-lo guys are finding is that they have to put the same commissioning program in place that thier hyperscale client has in place in North America,” says Terry Gillick, senior vice president, Primary Integration Solutions. Primary Integration is one of the leading US providers of commissioning services and serves clients including CyrusOne and QTS.

Another contributor is a growing pool of professional organisations – such as Future-tech and Primary Integration – that can help provide professional commissioning services. “There is an emerging commissioning management community around the world that I think are pushing things forward. I also think the better principal contractors are realizing the importance of it too,” says Hawkins.

Changing customer expectations

The commissioning training courses delivered by Clear Construction are based around the idea that has been a development and maturation in customer expectations. Customers still want the same four core outcomes they always have traditionally expected. The project should be delivered:

– On time
– On cost
– With good build quality
– With good levels of health and safety

But in the 21st Century built environment customers are also demanding three additional but equally important outcomes:

– On the day of handover the building should be operationally ready.

– The building should also be design to suit its required function. In the case of a data centre that would be to deliver IT services according to agreed service-levels

– The building should also function efficiently and effectively in the long term in accordance with whatever performance is important to that client. In the data centre world, long-term performance might relate to system resilience for example or low-energy consumption.

The introduction of these additional criteria has helped to redefine customer expectations of what commissioning should help achieve, Hawkins says. “There is now a view that commissioning is this quality assurance process that enables project teams to achieve the four traditional outcomes but just as importantly if you get the commissioning process right then you increase your chances of delivering those three other outcomes,” he says. “If we can more consistently deliver those seven outcomes then client’s benefit but construction project team’s also benefit as well.”

Costs and benefits

Commissioning still only accounts for a small percentage of overall design and build costs of a facility but the outlay has implications for the rest of the build. “As a rule of thumb the cost to commission a facility like a data centre is probably about 1% of the construction costs,” says Hawkins. “Why spend 99% on a data centre project and cut corners on the 1% when that 1% is crucial to making the rest of it work properly.”

Key takeaways

Future-tech, Primary Integration and Clear Construction share some key takeaways to ensure the commissioning process is implemented and completed successfully.

– Begin early. To achieve the seven outcomes defined by Clear Construction, commissioning needs to happen early on in the process. We at Future-tech share that view and usually assigns a data centre commissioning team lead during the design process.

– Be aware that automaton systems will probably be the source of most problems identified in the commissioning process.

– Commissioning is an on-going process. The commissioning agent and other players in the process will help to define the operational parameters for the facility. Companies such as Primary Integration and Future-Tech can also provide on-going support to the operations team as required on a consulting basis.

Engineer checking Condenser Water pump and pressure gauge , chiller water pump with pressure gauge.

Future Outlook 

Future-tech and its partners provide a range of engineering services including commissioning. By engaging Future-tech to ensure that systems are running correctly, clients have saved up to 67% on facility operational costs. For more information on commissioning please contact us at info@future-tech.co.uk

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