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Build a Data Center

Building a data center is a complex and expensive challenge requiring specific design and engineering skills.

  • 42% of IT leaders have been tasked with completing a data center build-out in 2010. Often, the organization lacks previous experience building a data center.
  • Each data center project is unique and should have its own detailed budget. Planning upfront and establishing a clear project scope will minimize expensive changes in later project stages.
  • This solution set will provide you with step-by-step design, planning and selection tools in order to define a facility design that minimizes costs and risk while supporting cost-effective long-term growth.

Our Advice

Critical Insight

  • Info-Tech sees organizations using designers grounded in commercial office space disciplines, which inevitably results in problems at later stages of the project with final inspections and expensive change orders.
  • Data center facilities require specific industrial design and engineering requirements to meet the needs for fire-protection, power provisioning, stand-by power, cooling, physical security, and layout.
  • General construction benchmarks are not always accurate - the absence of early budgeting and requirements definition risks cost overruns by as much as 22%.

Impact and Result

  • Early internal efforts to create a budget around facility requirements yields better cost and build outcomes when construction begins.
  • 65% of costs occur after the data center is built, an important consideration that is often forgotten in the budgeting process.
  • Each data center project is unique and should have its own detailed budget. Planning up front and establishing a clear project scope will minimize expensive changes in later project stages.

Build a Data Center Research & Tools

1. Understand the scope of what the enterprise is building

Gain clear insight into the scope of activities that must be completed before any data center build decision is made.

2. Create a data center build project charter

Establish clear project scope, decision rights, and executive sponsorship for the data center build project.

3. Establish a budget for the data center building project

Outline a clear and accurate budget and ensure funding for both the construction phase and the ongoing operating expenses of the facility.

4. Communicate to the executive during the project

Frequent and formal communications with the executive team ensures continued buy-in and support for the tricky issues that will inevitably arise during the project.

5. Select a General Contractor

The skills required to execute a data center facility build-out are rarely found in-house. A competent General Contractor with deep experience building similar facilities (of size and scope) is required. Selecting the contractor with the skills, approach, and right cost is tricky. Ensure the vendor matches the requirements and form a solid base for the long and expensive project ahead.

6. Select a site for the data center

Site selection has three distinct phases that are often over looked. Ensure that the final site selection is optimal and does not lead to foreseeable cost overruns in years 2 through 5.

7. Define the power, cooling and standby power requirements

The data center’s power and cooling capacity must adequately support the organization’s current infrastructure as well as meet future needs and requirements. To determine long-term need, IT must have a method to properly calculate and forecast data center power, cooling and, standby power requirements. IT departments that use a best-guess method are likely to run into trouble, and will incur unnecessary costs when adding new capacity for equipment in the future. By investing time finding the right information and performing the calculations involved in estimating facility requirements, IT will ensure that the data center has the right amount of power at the right cost to support both current and future needs.

8. Define the physical layout requirements

Before data center building or refresh plans can be finalized, IT must pay careful attention to the layout and design of building space. Along with the room that houses servers and data center equipment, space must also be allocated to rooms which relate to the support of data center functions and activity. The emphasis for space allocation decisions should be based on the workflow of the data center to try to achieve a balance between cost and flexible space for future business growth and changes.

9. Define fire protection requirements

Fire protection is a critical and obligatory part of data center design and planning. Because a fire can happen at any time, IT must be prepared to protect the data center with the necessary equipment for the following reasons:

  • Life safety. The primary concern when assessing data center fire protection requirements is to protect the lives of data center and surrounding personnel.
  • Protection of property. Servers and other equipment located in the data center are extremely expensive to replace. A fire protection plan should safeguard all equipment from excessive loss or damage.
  • Continuity of operations. The cost of downtime in critical business activities can cost the company thousands of dollars and interrupt employee productivity.
  • Codes and standards. IT managers must comply with the state, local, federal, and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes and standards. However, it is ultimately the Authority Having Jurisdiction that will dictate the majority of fire protection requirements.
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About Info-Tech

Info-Tech Research Group is the world’s fastest-growing information technology research and advisory company, proudly serving over 30,000 IT professionals.

We produce unbiased and highly relevant research to help CIOs and IT leaders make strategic, timely, and well-informed decisions. We partner closely with IT teams to provide everything they need, from actionable tools to analyst guidance, ensuring they deliver measurable results for their organizations.

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Darin Stahl

Melanie Davy


2 large organizations (Insurance & Government) contributed information that assisted with the development of this solution set; and requested confidentiality. Other useful data was collected from over 300 survey respondents.

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