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Parameters to Consider in the Data Center Location Decision

While power, connectivity, and cooling systems appear to be the primary concerns, natural hazards and other factors must also be evaluated.

Data Centers 2015
The commercialization of technology for mainstream use has created a need for data centers to be larger and have higher densities. The site selection of a data center facility is being redefined as needs change due to various external factors such as higher power density, super storms, physical and cyber security, and redefined resiliency. As a result, there are four main parameters that should be considered in the data center location decision: power, connectivity, cooling systems, and natural hazards.

Data centers utilize power to process compute, and they consume tremendous amounts of energy. The need for reliable, low-cost, and sufficient electrical power capacity starts the process for site selection. Early on, discussions need to happen to ensure that local utility companies can easily supply enough power for the project needs. This means that available distribution or transmission circuits are accessible, and operating voltages needed for the data center are available.
The need to evaluate natural hazards should also be considered. With the recent changes in FEMA flood zones due to Super Storm Sandy, an evaluation of the flood zone and drought conditions should be considered that looks back 25 to 100 years.
If the site requires an extension of high-tension power lines or requires construction of substations for distribution voltage, this can have a significant impact on initial cost and schedule. Initial meetings with the local utility company should address the availability of needed power quality and scalability of power available. Utility rate structure and incentives should also be discussed during the initial meetings with the local utility companies. Additionally, alternate power sources such as distribution generation and renewable energy need to be evaluated in the site selection process as well for corporate responsibility and incentives.

The availability of telecom service providers for connectivity is another critical component of the location decision. The number of available service providers and bandwidth capacity allows for a competitive environment and reduced rates. Many data center users also have IT redundancy requirements; this means that they typically have a primary and an alternate site(s). The connectivity between sites is important for application transfer and/or backup of data. The time connectivity speed (latency) between sites is another important factor that affects the site selection process. The primary and alternate site(s) should be far enough apart so as to not be impacted by local and regional events, but also have low latency to accommodate fail over between sites.

Cooling Systems
The selection of a location that is conducive to an efficient cooling system is a factor that could sway the decision between sites. The cooling requirements are constant regardless of the season and have a significant cost impact over the life of the facility. A site that has a temperate, nonvariable environment will require less mechanical cooling in lieu of economizers. Mechanical cooling requires energy to operate and impacts the overall efficiency (power utilization effectiveness) of the data center.

Other site utilities should be considered as well. Availability of water for the data center and sources of water are essential. Important factors to consider: Does the site require connection charges from the local utility? What is the cost per gallon for water and sewer? And is there an alternate source (such as secondary water line or a well)?

Other Factors/Natural Hazards
The need to evaluate natural hazards should also be considered. With the recent changes in FEMA flood zones due to Super Storm Sandy, an evaluation of the flood zone and drought conditions should be considered that looks back 25 to 100 years. The flood zone and drought conditions evaluation should be performed as it may impact the engineering design solutions from HVAC and electrical distribution.

Other factors including environmental conditions that should be considered are indicated below:
  • Distance to nearest major city — Trained and accessible human resources are needed to operate and maintain a complicated data center facility.
  • Major highway locations — The site should be accessible for staff, maintainability, and repairs.
  • Nearby airports/number of planes per day - Having a major airport nearby is important, but it can also be a risk, depending on the typical airplane takeoff and landing path.
  • Railroads - The type of rail and proximity of train tracks should be evaluated relative to the proposed data center site. The material transported should be researched to verify hazardous material transport and frequency.
  • Soil type and constructability - Is the site located on expansive clay and/or dry silting soil? This impacts not only construction of the building, but also power distribution if systems are routed underground. Electrical wiring run underground in conduit could require severe de-}rating and increase construction cost.
  • Neighborhood crime rates - If the site is located in an area with a high crime rate, sufficient physical and/or electronic security should be provided. Major infrastructure equipment should be protected from vandalism.
  • Hurricanes - Consider the number of hurricanes that have occurred over the years and severity of the events.
  • Flooding - Risks associated with flooding due to current codes and standards must be evaluated. How to mitigate the risk should be considered in a site prone to flooding.
  • Worst and recent seismic event recorded - Evaluation of recent seismic events can help determine the construction of the facility and impact on capital expenditures. The recent changes in calculation of seismic construction should also be evaluated.
  • Tornados - Consider the size and frequency of tornado events at and near the site. Does the facility need to be reinforced or solutions developed to protect the infrastructure and IT equipment?
  • Wild fires - With the advent and use of airside economizers in mechanical systems to save energy, also evaluate a location’s history of wild fires.
  • Landslides - Determine if an area is prone to landslides and impact to the data center facility and surrounding communities.
  • Nuclear power plants - Quantity, size, and proximity to nuclear power plants must be considered.
  • Proximity to explosion risks - The potential location should be evaluated for nearby industrial areas that may be at risk for explosions, such as agricultural silos, chemical plants, etc.
  • Hazardous waste sites - Proximity to a hazardous waste site and/or processing site should be researched and evaluated.
  • Toxic/soil contaminations sites - Types of contamination of the site and remediation process should be evaluated.
  • Habitat - Consider if the potential site is an environmental habitat for native animals and native flora.
  • Local ordinances - Determine the required local construction permits for fuel, environmental impacts, and the construction process.
In Sum
There is no site that is perfect; therefore the above parameters should be evaluated holistically. The evaluation of each parameter should be benchmarked with a business case for each site and optimal solution.

In evaluating a site for the future data center, a comprehensive Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) analysis should be developed to determine the optimal site for the project. The site selection touches all aspects of the data center project. The site selected will have a fundamental impact on capital and operational expenditures over the life of the facility. The risk associated with a site selected without thorough due diligence can be great. The proper site selection can have a long-term positive or negative impact on the project. Therefore, it is essential that the site is scalable and incorporates the agility needed for the next-generation data center.
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