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Data Centers: Locating Mission Critical Assets

A business of any size that needs to locate a data center should address these key considerations to select the right site.

March 2011
eBay’s newest data center opened in South Jordan, Utah, last May and will be the flagship facility for eBay. Photo courtesy Whitcomb
eBay’s newest data center opened in South Jordan, Utah, last May and will be the flagship facility for eBay. Photo courtesy Whitcomb
Locating a new data center project is a critical decision. Whether it is in your building, on your campus, or globally, there are critical factors in choosing a location for this mission critical asset. The first step in this process should always be a detailed understanding of your mission and goals, as well as your existing data center-type facilities. This will help you understand what you are looking for in a new location. By working with a design professional, you will be able to establish some basic parameters to start your search.

• Reliability goals (Tier I-Tier IV and hybrids in between)
• Physical size with built-in growth
• Utility requirements
• Network requirements
• Sustainable goals
• Desired relationship to the served facilities
• Security level
• Personnel and staffing issues
• Disaster recovery plan

In many ways, these basic issues do not change whether you are trying to locate a new data center in the building next door or in remote location around the globe.

Ask Area Development

If you have specific questions about data center site selection, submit them below to Ask Area Development and the article author will respond.
In Your Building
When you're looking to locate a mission-critical project in your building, you need to start with power. Is there available utility service to the building? Depending on the Tier level you need, an additional, separate feed may be required. The building must be physically able to handle the data center. The floor should have a minimum, live load capacity of 150 pounds-per-square-foot, and you will need a clear height of 13 feet for a raised-access, floor-cooled data center. In-row cooling solutions may work with less height. The selected area should have at least one exterior wall. It usually makes sense to locate next to a "soft" function that could be relocated if the data center expands. Roof drain, sanitary drains, and pressurized water systems should be avoided in the data center. With severe weather, basements and low-lying areas are poor locations for a data center. Many efficient engineering systems require more space and exterior access. In office buildings and hospitals, you will often see data centers jammed into leftover basement space in the building core. This space will work for a short time, but it becomes difficult to expand. Security and staffing issues should also play a role in your decision. Avoid locations near lobbies, kitchens, industrial uses, and dusty environments. Data centers employ critical and highly skilled people who are often very busy. A location near IT staff must be considered for situation response times.

On Your Campus
In a suburban campus, clients should consider locating mission critical assets away from the campus center or entrance. Sites are harder to find in an urban environment. The center limits expansion as the campus grows and changes. Hospitals often suffer from this issue when they choose a central location to save cable length. These central locations are good for passive network rooms and telecom closets. In many cases, the perimeter is a better location for a data center, provided it meets security requirements.

In a campus, it is too easy to create buildings that fix many problems. Data centers get added last minute to the program of a larger building. On several occasions, RTKL has been asked to fix failing data centers located in the basement of a campus's main building, usually next to the kitchen or loading dock, with floors of wet lab space above. Instead, a stand-alone data center, perhaps collocated with IT functions, is a good option. It addresses security, allows the campus to grow freely, and remains unaffected by maintenance shutdowns.

Where In the World
When your site search goes regional, national, or global, the issues get more intense. These are just some considerations that arise:
• Network speed or latency back to your other facilities
• Local taxes and tax incentives
• Sustainability incentives
• Electrical grids
• Utility rates
• Natural risks (weather, fire, flood, earthquake)
• Manmade risks (highways, train lines, flight paths, nuclear power plants)
• Neighbor risks
• Access to qualified personnel
• Operating tragedy (multiple hot sites, hot site/cold site)
• Federal laws the effect banking information
• Civil and environmental issues

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