What makes a successful data centre design?

In this interview, data centre specialist, Peter Agnew, provides further insights into what makes a successful data centre design…

A data centre, very simply, is a building designed to house computer servers (rather than people). Those computers have specific environmental requirements, and are required to run continuously, without interruption, no matter what. This demands resilient power supplies, cooling systems and data connections into and within the building.  The buildings themselves are often highly secure and anonymous.

‘The cloud’ is a term used to describe the storage, processing and distribution of data stored on servers all around the world.

What attracted you to this industry?

I’ve helped to deliver projects across a variety of commercial sectors, but it was my interest in technology and IT that shifted my focus towards the data centre industry. Hyphen has a long track record in data centre design (since the 90s), and we’ve experienced phenomenal growth in this sector over the last few years!

What are the main factors that you need to consider when you’re planning/designing a new data centre?

From an infrastructure perspective, it’s vital that sufficient power capacity is available and can be brought to the site. Proximity to existing fibre-optic cable routes is also a key factor in choosing a site. The climate will affect how the building can be cooled, with cooler climates providing more opportunity for free cooling or direct/indirect cooling which significantly reduce energy demand. You need to consider the amount of space required for plant in addition to the technical and support spaces in the building. For example, will it be located inside the building, on the roof, or in a compound at ground level?

Neighbours are also a consideration, especially on city centre sites – cooling plant produces noise, standby generators produce exhaust and the building is operational 24/7, so careful planning is required to minimise or mitigate the impacts on surrounding areas.

What differences have you experienced across international locations?

Although many of the regulations are harmonised across Europe, you do have to be aware of national and sometimes regional differences. Frankfurt, for example, is known for its high-rise buildings, and as a result, fire regulation is very strict. Some products that can commonly be used elsewhere throughout Europe require local certification or individual testing to be permitted in construction. In the Netherlands, good design is a high priority within the building approvals process, and in the Nordics, roof loadings have to account for very deep snowfall, and sloping roofs need to incorporate snow guards to protect people from sheets of snow and ice sliding off the roof. Individual cities also vary in their approach to data centre development. Some are clued up on the specific requirements and impacts, whereas others approach them as any other industrial building.

How important is good design to the external and internal layout of a data centre?

For some clients and their customers security is achieved through anonymity. They don’t want to draw unwanted attention to themselves. Others are happy to take the opportunity to promote their brand with an eye-catching building design. Design is not just about how something looks, however, it’s also about how it works. A lot of effort goes into the layout of spaces and the co-ordination of plant and services to ensure that the building is easy and efficient to construct and operate, irrespective of what it looks like from the outside.

We also need to consider changing technology and futureproofing as, over the years, we’ve seen technologies change and experienced how building design has needed to adapt to suit.  What’s considered state-of-the-art at the beginning of a project, may be obsolete by the time the building is fully fitted-out.