Whether you call it a data center, a telecommunications room, or a server room, the room housing your organization’s IT hardware is the nerve center of your operation. Solid data center infrastructure design is crucial for ensuring the smooth operation and overall functionality of your IT assets—both now and in the future.
However, many organizations struggle to create efficient, safe, and stable data center designs. Numerous mistakes in the infrastructure design create complications in the maintenance, management, and ongoing expansion of the data center as IT needs inevitably continue to grow.
What are some of the biggest challenges in designing data center infrastructure? More importantly, what are some of the most common data center design mistakes that you should avoid?
Here’s a quick explanation of some of the major challenges in designing a telecom room and a list of some of the most common design mistakes that people make:
Common Data Center Infrastructure Design Challenges
- Defining the Data Center’s Current Needs. One of the most basic challenges in creating any data center infrastructure design proposal is establishing the current needs of the organization for data processing, data storage, and security. The IT equipment required to meet those needs must then be defined, which will be used to establish the overall design requirements for housing and interconnecting equipment.
- Accurately Estimating Future Capacity Needs. It’s not enough for the telecommunications room to be able to handle the organization’s current needs, it must also be able to accommodate the future requirements of the organization—or at least be able to expand so the data center infrastructure can easily scale with the organization as it grows.
- Controlling Costs. The cost associated with building out the data center’s infrastructure is always a concern. Adding or replacing servers, organizing data cables, and ensuring that everything meets critical building codes and industry standards can get expensive, fast. Things only get worse when an inadequate data center infrastructure design proposal is submitted and accepted that doesn’t account for everything required—necessitating further upgrades, retrofits, or even a complete redo.
- Keeping the Data Center Organized. One of the big challenges when upgrading or renovating a data center is data cable organization. When data cabling is messy or disorganized, maintaining or expanding the data center becomes more difficult. Incorporating proper cable management within racks/cabinets, as well as establishing a plan for labeling and documenting equipment connections, will go a long way to help ensure things remain organized.
- Choosing an Equipment Connection Method. How will the equipment in your telecommunications room be connected with everything else? There are two general topologies for connecting data center equipment—top of rack and end of row. Both of these setups have their own pros and cons. Here’s a very abbreviated explanation:
- Top of Rack: Sometimes referred to as “in-rack” designs. Here, the servers in the rack all connect to one or two Ethernet switches inside of the racking system itself. This design tends to result in lower cabling costs but increased costs for active equipment. Note that, despite the name, the connection points may not always be at the top of the rack.
- End of Row: Where a “top of rack” system treats each server cabinet like an individual unit, an “end of row” system treats an entire row of server cabinets as a “pod” or “unit” collectively. While this means fewer switches to manage than a top of rack setup, it does require more emphasis be placed on the data cabling infrastructure and how to manage the cabling installed between racks and cabinets. A lack of proper planning could result in a messy environment and increased ongoing maintenance costs.
- Accounting for the Distribution of Power. Server equipment frequently requires significant amounts of power to run stably. So, data center designs need to account for proper power distribution to avoid placing excessive loads on any single circuit. Most servers and other critical equipment often have redundant power supplies, which require additional design consideration for distribution of power in the event the primary power supply fails.
- Planning for Power Outages. Even with the best-designed power distribution infrastructure, there is always a risk of a power outage. Installing sufficient uninterruptible power systems (UPSs) will allow the server room to continue working despite an unexpected loss of utility power.
- Allowing Sufficient Heat Dissipation for Server Equipment. While computer processors are becoming smaller and more efficient as time goes on, large-scale server room equipment still tends to generate enormous amounts of heat. Accounting for heat dissipation, and choosing between a sealed cold aisle containment system that eliminates “hot spots” or a more energy-efficient hot aisle containment system is a must.
The Biggest Data Center Infrastructure Design Mistakes
Knowing some of the biggest data center design concerns is an important first step. However, it’s also important to know what the most common mistakes are—and to learn from the examples provided by others so you don’t repeat them yourself.
There are countless errors that can be made when designing a telecommunications room/data center—far too many to cover them all in detail. However, there are a few critical errors that the Blue Wave Communications team have encountered (and had to fix for clients) repeatedly over the years. Here are some of the worst mistakes we’ve encountered:
- Underestimating the Budget for Installation and Ongoing Costs. No data center infrastructure design is ever without ongoing costs. Over time, active equipment in the telecom room will need to be upgraded, repaired or replaced; power and cooling costs will keep adding up; and labor will need to be spent on actually managing the server room. While spending extra on the initial design proposal for better data cabling organization and more energy-efficient solutions may increase up-front costs, this can actually help to reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) over time.
- Not Leaving Sufficient Room for Future Growth. On all too many occasions, a data center infrastructure design proposal fails to leave much, if any, room for growth. Not incorporating sufficient room for growth into the design obviously limits how much the server room can handle—but it can also limit the organization’s ability to adopt new technology or systems that could improve operational efficiency.
- Not Accounting for Cable Management. Many people underestimate the need for cable organization until it is too late. Rush installation jobs often leave data centers with wildly disorganized cabling in place. This makes it much harder to keep data center connections organized, which increases the time needed to perform basic maintenance (and thus increasing maintenance costs). Disorganized data cabling can also lead to poorly-performing networks and even increase the likelihood of unplanned network outages.
Simple Tips for Building a Better Data Center
Here are a few simple tips to help you avoid the potential pitfalls of data center design:
- Conduct a Thorough Needs Assessment. What equipment is being installed? How will this equipment be mounted and ultimately connected? What are the power and cooling requirements for this equipment?
- Plan for Growth from Day One. Before you build your data center, you should not only have an estimate of your current needs, but a projection of what your needs will be 1,3, or 5+ years in the future. Having this estimate will help you better plan your data center to accommodate future growth, making it easier to scale with your ever-growing needs while minimizing costs. Without a realistic estimate, it can be easy to under-provision which increases costs for future expansion or massively over-provision, which wastes money on resources that likely won’t be needed. Conducting a thorough needs assessment can help when making these growth projections.
- Devote Time to Designing the Cabling Infrastructure. Having a plan for how all current and future active equipment (switches, servers, routers, etc.) will be interconnected is critical for maintaining an organized and functional data center. Keeping cables organized from the very beginning helps make ongoing maintenance and future upgrades much easier, which effectively reduces labor costs.
- Find a Dedicated Low-Voltage Cabling Contractor. Hiring an experienced low-voltage cabling contractor to assist with your data center infrastructure design can help you avoid many of the most common design mistakes and major pitfalls of data center design. A trustworthy contractor will be able to offer solutions and recommendations to help make the process easier and less stressful.
Need help with designing your data center infrastructure? Reach out to the Blue Wave Communications team for information and advice!