Let’s Build Data Centers We Can Be Proud Of

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Despite the progress made in Liberia’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, there are just a few locations that we can refer to as data centers. What we have in abundance are server rooms or Main Distribution Facilities/Frames (MDFs) or (Intermediate Distribution Facilities/Frames (IDFs) where servers are stored along with networking equipment. But the real data center facilities to host real enterprise servers are VERY few. Even some of the few good data centers in Liberia most likely do not meet the operational and capacity requirements of the ideal data center. In today’s article, I discuss the need to design and build data centers with the types of flexibility and scalability that characterize an ideal data center. Focus is placed on location, building selection, floor layout, electrical system design, mechanical design and modularity.

The overarching rule in data center facilities is to design for flexibility and scalability. This rule embraces several key principles in the site location, building selection, floor layout, electrical system design, mechanical design, and the concept of modularity that enables the data center facility to change and adapt as needed, with minimum renovation and change to basic building systems.

In view of the above, we (ICT managers, policy makers, et al) need to start planning our data centers in a way that enables them to achieve the operational and capacity requirements that conform to international standards and best practices. The planning stages must take seriously the human and technical aspects of the data center. For example, technologies such as blade servers that require substantial incremental power and cooling capacity, changes in operational procedures, and potential changes in safety and security regulations must always been considered during the planning stages.

Our data centers must be planned in a way that enhances operational efficiency, safety and security. Data centers should be “glass fronted” with fire protection mechanisms to meet the appropriate fire ratings. All materials including cables and cable ducts must be flame – retardant and halon free.

A flame resistant ceiling should be part of this implementation, so too must there be a proper earthing for all metallic material including all racks, rack doors, rack side walls, raised floor stands and cable ducts based on international standards and norms. The paint used in the data center must be flame-retardant and all rack cabling must be done under raised floors. Wall openings and ceilings must also be closed with fire proofed material so that the data center is totally protected against fire, smoke and from water outside.

Furniture in the data center must be fire protected as well. This clearly means no wooden desks, packages, or storage should be situated in the data center. There has to be no flammable equipment stored in the data center. In addition to this, there must be an automatic fire extinguishing system and additional cameras for monitoring as well as a leak detection system.

Electrical services must be capable of providing a safe sustainable power source in order to maintain the operation of the equipment. Power must be provided for regular operations and UPS distribution for all equipment. The overall power requirements for a data center vary. When considering power options, it is good to subsume efficiency as an essential way of keeping costs low; although trying to keep cost too low where it impacts power and cooling could be disastrous.

Still on the issue of power, servers consume the majority of energy in a data center – primarily in the processors and memory components. Organizations can gain significant energy efficiency by utilizing more efficient models of servers. Taking a look at integrated infrastructures like Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS) might be a good idea.

As for security, card readers or a biometric system must be put in place for security especially at all points of entry. This system must be connected to an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) at all times.
It is rare to see raised floors in server rooms or de facto data centers in Liberia. Raised floors are important hence they are installed with Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) surfaces. Raised floors should be fire proofed and electrically continuous throughout, and should be bonded to earth due to manufacturer recommendation. Each bond shall be made to the floor pedestal utilizing proprietary cable clamps.

Ventilation or a proper air conditioning system is crucial to the data center’s operation; and therefore, a steady temperature and humidity must be maintained. To maintain a steady temperature and humidity, a Network Management Software/System may be required. This is imperative and not an option! In addition, high class fire proofed cabinets for data tapes and other storage devices must be used. The data center must be equipped with telephones and a proper labeling and documentation system must put in place.

Finally modern data center design involves planning carefully for the center’s location, hardware and building infrastructure. It’s certainly not a simple initiative. Also, personnel of the data center are the ones who manage the day-to-day operations, including critical building systems, maintenance, repair and the contracting for specialized services, including physical security, cleaning, grounds maintenance. It is therefore particularly important that they work closely with procurement specialists in reviewing vendor product specifications relating to power requirements, redundancy features, floor loading factors, and issues relating to space and cooling. With the advent of high-density servers, problems with heat and power demands can wreak havoc on a facility’s power and cooling systems. A data center is an important and critical area in ICT/IT. It must be well designed, built and maintained for optimum performance.

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