olly - Fotolia


A quick guide to data center commissioning

Service provider selection, design documentation and thorough testing are all necessary for commissioning. Learn the process's nuances to get your facilities online.

Commissioning is important for any building, but it's critical for a data center and requires more steps than an office building. Data center commissioning ensures everything runs correctly but also asks if the infrastructure will stay online when something goes wrong.

Data center commissioning (Cx) examines potential failure modes and then introduces those failures into the infrastructure to verify that redundancies perform as intended. It's a strategic approach that verifies equipment can be shut down for service and that backup systems actually work when needed.

Types of commissioning

There are three major categories of Cx: fundamental or new facility Cx; existing building Cx (EBCx) for facilities that were never commissioned or were significantly modified; and continuous Cx, which can include actual Cx testing for a computer room air conditioning unit, a computer room air handler maintenance or an uninterrupted power supply battery change.

Cx establishes the baseline for continuous commissioning and provides a data center infrastructure management system to monitor deviations and raise alarms if something starts to go awry.

An important facet of Cx is simulating failure scenarios, but it's not the only purpose. Cx first verifies that each system and component functions properly and that all settings in the data center facility design are calibrated as intended.

If a facility doesn't operate properly at the outset, it's certain a component will go off the rails once it is live. The Cx process is also a prerequisite for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

Setting data center commissioning up for success

Full Cx is a five-step process defined by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. For a new facility, it should begin in the design stage with a selected Cx agent (CxA). You should review any plans as early as the programming stage but no later than the design development stage.

At this point, a CxA can catch and correct design details that have historically led to Cx problems or facility failures. The CxA should ensure that valves, switches, gauges and controls are not only included in the data center and facility, but are installed to make Cx and operation easier, safer and more dependable.

Although most engineering firms also do building Cx, it's advisable to contract an independent CxA that specializes in mission-critical facilities. To select such a CxA, you inquire as to what sizes and classes of data centers she has commissioned, the failure histories and causes of those facilities and the experience levels of the people involved in the Cx process.

Testing the facility

It's also important to understand how the CxA develops Cx scripts. These scripts define the test steps and sequencing and should become more detailed as the project progresses through each design phase. The final scripts should be fully tailored to the facility designs and performance goals.

Be sure to ask how the CxA will deliver results. Data center commissioning is a lengthy process. IPad data or electronic entry makes test results available immediately so you can remediate any issues without delay.

Testing protocols can determine data accuracy. If it's done with a few large heat sources and a walk-through with a hand-held meter, it will not come close to simulating reality. Thorough Cx requires large numbers of distributed load banks and special test equipment. The design documents should dictate who participates in the Cx process, as well as what test equipment is required to make the time and expense worthwhile.

Maintaining operations and certifications

EBCx of operating data centers is an important but challenging process. An organization should recommission data centers every few years to ensure that everything is still fine, but shutting down systems in a live environment is usually perceived as risky. The real risk, however, is not testing at all. Professionals might have ways of testing without inordinate exposure, but EBCx can uncover a host of potential vulnerabilities.

It's also important to know that Uptime Institute Tier Certification is not the same as Cx -- though there certainly are similarities. Uptime Tier Certification of Design Documents also involves thorough review of the drawings but from the standpoint of Tier-Level criteria.

The Uptime Institute emphasizes that Tier Certification of Constructed Facility should come after proper Cx. Meeting Uptime standards requires a different kind of inspection to achieve an actual Tier Certification, even if the designs have been certified.

Dig Deeper on Data center design and facilities

Cloud Computing
and ESG