Data Center Journal

Volume 28 | August 2013

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FACILITY CORNER Data Center Commissioning and the Myth of the Phased Build BY CHRIS CROSBY AND KFIR GODRICH Y ou're a passenger on the inaugural flight of the latest luxury jet liner. Everyone is excited, you're sitting in your comfortably appointed seat, the flight attendants are serving you champagne and fancy finger food and then both engines shut off. As the plane begins its transition into the world's largest lawn dart, you overhear the captain saying, "Maybe we should have had a test flight or two before we started." I think we can all agree that this is a scenario that we would choose to avoid, which brings us to the topic of data centers and commissioning. The consequences may not be life and death, but running your company's most important applications in a data center without a full commissioning is a lot like hopping on a jet that hasn't had any test flights. pens in both likely and worst case scenarios. Since there a multiple factors that lead to a data center outage, commissioning the facility and IT helps to ensure that all of its systems perform as necessary to keep your applications running—even when running at maximum designed capacity and beyond during transient conditions. As data centers might still work with failure conditions at relatively low load levels, only the Integrated System Test (IST) at the nominal to maximum designed capacity levels will show how the system performs. In simple terms, since electricity is not digital in nature, performance when overhead is high can be different than when it is low. Commissioning is the most effective way to avoid unplanned outages resulting from design, engineering, construction, installation and component quality. Data center commissioning is one of those areas that everyone has heard about and is familiar with. Unfortunately, familiarity doesn't equate to understanding as evidenced by the fact that so many folks still entrust their company's mission critical applications to data centers that have not fully completed the process. An incomplete commissioning turns on the engines and kicks a couple of tires, but it doesn't take the plane up into the air to make sure that it can actually fly. THE FIVE LEVELS WHY IS COMMISSIONING SO IMPORTANT? The best way to think of commissioning is as a way to reduce the risk of unplanned outages and downtime by testing what hap- 12 | THE DATA CENTER JOURNAL Commissioning is a comprehensive process that documents, tests and validates, the results of a data center's design and build process. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) defines it as "a qualityoriented process for achieving, verifying, and documenting that the performance of facilities, systems, and assemblies meets defined objectives and criteria". Perhaps the most important aspect of data center commissioning left unsaid in these explanations is that only a fully IST commissioned (described shortly) data center can ensure that all of the sub-systems successfully work together at load (otherwise known as the operating point). A full data center commissioning process consists of five separate levels, with each building upon its predecessor: • Level One – The first level of the com- missioning process actually begins during the design phase for the facility itself. During this phase the plans for the facility and its component systems are evaluated to determine their suitability for the site's intended operations. In order to ensure that the ultimate commissioning of the data center is as detailed as possible a commissioning agent should be involved from this point of the process forward. Many organizations attempt to use their design engineers as their commissioning agent as well due to their familiarity with the site. This is a mistake as the role of each is diametrically different. The design engineer looks at the facility from the standpoint of making it work, while the commissioning agent thinks about all the ways to break it. • Level Two – The second level of com- missioning is also known as the "Factory Witness Testing" phase. As the name would imply all key equipment from sources downstream to RPPs are powered up at the factory to ensure that they are performing to their necessary parameters. • Level Three – At this level of the com- missioning all major system components are accepted and inspected at the data center site. The equipment start-up test scripts that have been developed with the component providers are reviewed with the installing sub-contractors. These scripts define the requirements that each component

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