Feel intimidated by that maze of motherboards and server racks? Look under the hood for a better understanding.
- All data centers are built on four foundations.
- Knowing how much power a center will need is key to successful design.
- Taming tons of wiring is essential to coherent data center infrastructure.
- Environmental controls and optimizing space complete the design.
Data centers are one of the most technologically complex things you’ll ever encounter (outside of trying to separate those thin plastic bags at the grocery store fruit section). They’re filled with humming server racks, countless lights, and the odd skeleton of an IT engineer who took a wrong turn searching for an exit.
All this complexity boils down to four key factors: electrical, wiring, installation, and connection. Even the most tech-phobic business manager can become familiar with data center design, so here’s our breakdown of the four pillars of solid data center infrastructure.
1. Electrical needs
The “right” amount of electrical power to generate for a data center varies, but all sites have foundational things in common. Power may be introduced from local sources such as a power grid, independently via onsite generation, or, more commonly, a mix of the two. The electrical power generated must meet the center’s peak demand needs while keeping some power in reserve.
A data center can’t calculate its power costs and backup requirements unless it measures normal and heavy traffic loads. Monitoring power usage effectiveness (PUE) requires dividing all the power coming into the data center by the electricity required to run it. Power must flow as cleanly and reliably as possible against threats like blackouts, brownouts, and power surges. This is necessary to stay compliant with the National Electrical Code (NEC).
Once everything electrical is in place, it must be tested – preferably before it’s turned on! Components such as circuit breakers, transformers, and uninterruptible power supplies will be checked along with cable voltage, which brings us neatly to pillar number two.
2. Wiring and Cabling
Data center buildings require more than just internal wiring. They’re often linked to other data centers regionally, nationally, or globally. This happens via bundles of wires stashed inside several types of cables which are usually extremely well-protected aluminum or copper; copper is an excellent material for grounding in data centers. A few common methods are:
- UTP Copper Cats: More than just a cool name, unshielded twisted pair copper cat cabling is categorized numerically with subset variations. The higher the category, the more powerful their electrical or internet signals will be.
- Fiber-optic cable: Optical fibers made of plastic or glass transmit data using light rather than electricity. These are encased in multiple protective layers, which can include metal and gel. Fiber optics allow for better long-range data transmission and higher bandwidths, while multi-mode fiber cables can carry multiple light rays for greater data delivery.
- Coaxial: Copper cables sheathed in an insulating layer, then wrapped in metal shielding to conduct the signal and prevent interference. Twinax cables are a variation of single conductor coaxial, which can actively boost a data center’s signal using two conductors. Standard coaxial isn’t as powerful as fiber optics, but they’re more affordable to purchase and maintain.
So many cables can easily become a spaghetti junction, so data centers tend to run their cables through patch panels. These can have a handful or hundreds of insertion ports, so wiring of all kinds can be routed to their destination or switched to new ones more easily.
Every component in a data center must be precisely positioned to make optimal use of space with minimal impact on operations. Everything must be installed so it:
- Stays cool: Heat must be directed away from sensitive data center areas and out of the building itself. Sealing server bays and isolating them from the HVAC system is a good start, and so is replacing heat-emitting lighting with something like LEDs. Blanking panels and room-specific cooling methods provide further temperature control. Here’s our money-saving advice on this subject.
- Is successfully connected to a backup power source: Emergency power via one or more commercial backup generators is a great way to safeguard data-center infrastructure when primary power fails. Uninterruptible power supplies are effective short-term solutions that allow data centers to efficiently shut down systems rather than crashing into offline status.
- Has some form of redundancy: Different from backup power, a redundancy contingent means a secondary piece of hardware can start doing a job when the primary source goes offline.
- Uses the right rack PDUs for the space: Rack power distribution units come in three types: vertical, horizontal, and mixed mounting, which can be chosen based on available space. Electricians must consider other PDU installation factors, such as the data center building’s input power type, input power cord type, and plug construction.
Installing power, performance, and environmental control solutions is no easy task. Only the most experienced teams should be entrusted with this job!
Data centers can connect to their customers (and vice versa) in several ways. The more popular method these days is using cloud storage as a go-between, but many businesses still use point-to-point connections between their private networks and the data center.
Older data center infrastructures may still be using multiple network-to-network VPNs. Other businesses may use a third-party provider to get information to and from the data center. These all have pros and cons that are outside the scope of this blog. Suffice it to say, though, that all connections should be as secure as possible against cyberattacks and data interruption.
Giving these four pillars proper attention means a data center infrastructure that must meet required regulatory standards. Work with an experienced team to get it all done well.
Do data centers right with UES
Universal Electrical Services is South Florida’s power pro. We bring decades of experience to power businesses of all kinds, and we’re well-versed in data center design. Our team is here to help you build, renovate, or even relocate one. Just get in touch to discuss data centers or receive a free quote!