The questions good data centers want you to ask.

I’ve been reading tonight about questions data centers don’t want you to ask. I’m going to expand on some of the questions and generalizations made about data center space in that article.

The article makes certain assumptions about mixed use and conversion buildings for data center housing. If you filter your choice of data centers based on that general criteria, you’re liable to be disappointed both ways, by missing a great opportunity in a perfectly fine building or being disappointed by a substandard conversion building. I’ve seen fairly modern conversion buildings with horrifically low floor ratings and quite old multi use buildings with floor load ratings approaching 1000 lbs sq ft (considering that most people are looking at around 250 lbs per sq ft, that’s fantastic).

The second point is not to make assumptions about the quality of the electrical infrastructure based on its age. Relatively modern buildings with a mostly aluminum electrical infrastructure should be avoided, in my opinion. Aging aluminum bus bars are a disaster waiting to happen (just observe the results of the Fisher Plaza data center fire, caused by aluminum bus bars) and unmaintained aluminum cables mean power quality problems from loose connections everywhere. On the other hand, older all copper systems rarely ever experience the issues that aluminum does, since copper connections simply don’t loosen, nor does copper oxidize the way aluminum does. The system conductor material and capacity is far more important than the age of it.

The idea that conversion buildings are often in areas prone to flooding baffles me. We’ve seen purpose built data centers (Vodafone in Turkey) flood as well as multi use buildings in large cities flood over the last years. Anyone that converts a building in a flood prone area, sets up shop in a multi use building in a flood prone area, or builds a dedicated data center building in a flood prone area exhibits the exact same questionable judgment. No one type of building is more prone to flood than another.

Being in any sort of an area with a high crime problem is also another issue of questionable judgment. On the positive side, data center buildings located in industrial areas typically have access to huge amounts of power, heavy transportation facilities (such as rail), and no zoning issues that would limit most data center activities.

So, how do you pick a good facility? Pick one with solid, well maintained , and up to code electrical (and ditch the known disaster magnet known as aluminum). Pick one with generous floor load capacity. Pick one that can adapt to meet your power and cooling requirements. Pick one that isn’t on a flood plain.

And forget prejudging based on multi user, conversion, and dedicated. Any of the three could meet your needs (or not as the case may be). There’s no shortcut, but you’ll be happier in the end.

Vern, SwiftWater Telecom

data center facilities engineering


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