Repurposing a data center, eat your heart out Bob Vila!


Tonight, I been reading about the pitfalls ofdata centers in old buildings. There are plenty of pitfalls in older buildings but also plenty of pleasant surprises if you look for them.

In previous posts, I’ve discussed electrical issues in older buildings that impact the use of the building for data center purposes. I’ve also discussed features of older buildings that actually contribute to greening the data center. In this post I’ll expand a bit on the building physical requirements.

One of the most important things to consider in repurposing a building for data center use is floor strength. I’ve seen modern type 1 buildings (steel frame and cement) that looked great but had weak floors full of voids. On the other hand, I’ve seen 100+ year old type 4 (brick and timber frame) former mills where the floor strength approached 1000 lbs per sq ft (6 inches of plank flooring), 4x the minimum floor loading I’d consider for data center use. More load capacity is better!

Elevator capacity is also another factor. Look for buildings with large capacity freight elevators. Last thing you want to have to have to do it disassemble equipment to carry it on a standard sized passenger elevator.

One of the things that frequently gets overlooked is vertical riser capacity to provide cable paths between floors. Many older buildings will actually sacrifice an elevator to use the former shaft to bring cables to various floors.

The most likely contaminant to be found when reusing an old building is asbestos. Asbestos in an old building itself isn’t an issue with servers, but the air flow involved can stir up deteriorating asbestos into an airborne toxic hazard. Generally, if the contaminant isn’t conductive or a health hazard, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

In addition to the floors, strength of the roof is a consideration for HVAC equipment. Access to outside air needs to be considered for using free air cooling to make the data center green.

Ceiling heights in former industrial buildings are typically 10 or more feet. I wouldn’t consider 10 feet adequate for using a 3 foot raised floor, but it’s more than sufficient to use an overhead cable rack. Scratch any building with ceilings lower than 10 feet.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of course, but together with my previous articles, it highlights the most important things to considering when reusing an older building as a data center. Just remember not to discard any building because of age. An older building may be far more usable than a much newer one!

Vern, SwiftWater Telecom

data center, web hosting, Internet engineering

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