Server rooms are relatively large and complex but essential investments – one that is important to get right to ensure they deliver value by functioning as expected.
We expertise in creating server rooms is an integral part of the firm’s wider ability to design, engineer and build entire offices, corporate base buildings and campuses. Many leading corporations around the world have relied on Geoinfo as a source of experienced, effective project leadership.
Below, Geoinfo professionals provide an overview of server room design fundamentals; a ‘roadmap’ of things to consider on the way to getting it right.
Geoinfo has designed and built server rooms
Table Of Content
Server room, data centre or hub? Where this roadmap leads
Often, what many people refer to as a ‘server room’ or ‘data centre’ is actually a ‘hub room’ containing a few racks of routers and servers to distribute data from remote servers.
But technically speaking, only a room with a large number of racks or a multi-room facility dedicated to such equipment can be considered a data centre.
In this document, what we refer to as a ‘server room’ is the equivalent of a ‘small data centre’ common to many types of office. It contains a relatively modest number of racks and equipment
Equipment racks are a common feature to all facilities of this type, and are used to hold switch patch panels and servers. They are designed to enable equipment to be readily added to or moved. Some racks have doors, but in many Geoinfo projects these are removed to better dissipate the heat generated by the equipment.
Key considerations from Geoinfo professionals
Examine the building’s capability to support what you intend to build
The importance of finding an appropriate site for your server room becomes apparent when you consider the investment it will require to build. As well as occupying valuable floor space, the server room will require additional power, cooling and other environmental controls.
1. Standby Power
Two possible options present themselves when the power supply to your data centre or server room is interrupted:
Switch off equipment
Switch to an alternate power source
In either case, a battery backup called an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) is required. The UPS provides a critical ‘bridge’ spanning the few minutes it takes to shut down or switch to an alternate power source without incurring a loss of data or equipment damage.
Alternate / emergency standby sources
In some instances of power outage, business-critical systems will need to be maintained beyond the duration the UPS batteries will support. It is therefore important for many Geoinfo clients that servers have access to a standby power source, preferably from the building itself. Whether your office’s building offers this capability is an important consideration when planning your data centre or server room.
If the building does not offer its own standby power source, you may need to install your own dedicated generator. The practicality of this option should be determined as early as possible – ideally during the pre-lease phase of your project, when a space’s suitability can be assessed and discussions with the landlord initiated to get the generator’s location approved, which is often placed on the roof.
Server equipment generates a great deal of heat while operating. Excessive heat can shorten the server’s lifespan or cause malfunction. Consequently, effective cooling will be a critical.
Landlord systems cannot generally be utilised for cooling as they generally only operate from Monday to Friday during normal office hours, though some landlords may provide a dedicated 24-hour circuit for server rooms.
Servers typically have a front and a rear, with air discharged to the rear. It is important to indicate the rack front as early as possible so that the supply air and return air can be coordinated.
For smaller server rooms, a small refrigerant system may be suitable, while chillers may be more appropriate for larger server rooms. For large server rooms with rows of racks, it may also be possible to use cold-aisle containment to improve cooling efficiency.
If an additional cooling system needs to be installed, then it is critical that a suitable location for the heat rejection plant and route for the services be agreed as early as possible.
Consider the location within your space
Placement of the server room within the office space is another issue. For example, it is best to avoid locating the room against the building’s curtain wall windows: such a placement will likely cause additional heat load and increase the amount of air conditioning needed.
In general, We experienced professionals recommend locating the server close to a central core area. This is where the floor’s carrying capacity is likely at its maximum. For a multi-floor tenant, this location will also offer access to vertical spaces (risers) from floor to floor, or the potential to create new risers as necessary. Placing servers away from traffic flow and prime areas but closer to the building core also provides flexibility for future changes in the office space.
The weight of your server room or data centre – and the maximum amount the floor can bear – will need to be checked frequently. Nothing should be taken for granted.
The total weight of your server room or data centre includes all equipment. Collectively, these will induce a significant load on the building’s floor plate.
Structural reinforcement of the floor may be necessary to support the installation of a large UPS (eg, above 30kVA), as the batteries may need be large. This makes it all the more important to determine the UPS load as early as possible and allocate suitable space for it.
Assessing the needs of the room you intend to build
In larger companies, standards and their associated procedures and checklists are often already in place, and managed by a dedicated IT team.
For the sake of general knowledge, we will review some common key considerations.
Putting It All Together
As they are inherently complex and have their unique requirements for power, HVAC and fire protection, server rooms represent a major investment that should be designed integrally with the rest of your office for maximum effectiveness.
Geoinfo’s holistic approach to workplace projects supports this goal, melding together all the expertise required for your project – including IT, engineering and design specialists – into a single, collaborative team from inception to completion. The result is an effective server room that meets your need for reliability, flexibility and maintainability, delivered within an office that as a whole fulfils your business goals.
To begin your conversation about effective server room and workplace design, contact us at Admin@Geoinfotek.com.
Access & Security
Not everyone needs or should be allowed physical access to your server room or data centre.
The degree of security concern and the response vary greatly, but in general server rooms are left locked with access provided through biometrics, keypad or card-swipe. Ideally, there is a log of who entered and when. Often closed circuit cameras monitor the room.
Near the entry you will also see monitoring panels and alarms related to fire detection and suppression systems.
Data & Power Distribution
Thick bundles of cables are a common sight wherever there is a server room or data centre. While these cables are designed to be shielded to some degree, it is best that they do not cross paths with power routes.
For example, data cables may be distributed across the ceiling while power is distributed below. The configuration will vary, but most IT professionals will agree to the basic rule of keeping power and data cables as discrete as possible. Careful coordination with the air distribution is also imperative to avoid performance issues.
Fire protection provisions are important for even smaller server rooms if critical data is involved.
The type of fire suppression sprinkler used elsewhere in an office would normally not be used for a server room, since water and servers obviously don’t mix. Even if the odds of a fire actually occurring are low, the possibility exists of sprinkler leakage, or even accidental water discharge due to something as innocuous as an accidentally bump.
A very sensitive smoke detection and alarm (VESDA) may be used for added protection. VESDA sniffs out smoke and heat and sends that information back to a monitoring system, which in turn can be integrated into the building’s general fire detection system.
Essentially, these systems work by removing oxygen from the room, and thus depriving the fire of its fuel source. When activated, the system will sound an alarm in order to provide time to evacuate the room before it discharges.
If a gas system is unacceptable due to cost or other factors, an alternative is the dry pipe or pre-action sprinkler system. These use water, but leave their feed pipes dry unless a series of events occur to activate them. While this eliminates the risk of damage occurring from accidental leaks or discharges, it does not reduce the likelihood of damage from the deliberate discharge of water.
An environmental monitoring system (EMS) is often used in facilities of this type to regulate temperature, humidity and power supply, and even to detect water leaks from pipes. EMS can also monitor the status of UPS, batteries and cooling systems. This capability can typically be incorporated via the UPS interface and can be available on web browser so that it is accessible from any location.
For smaller server rooms containing one to four racks, wall-mounted refrigerant cassette units may provide sufficient cooling capacity. Larger server rooms (for example, with more than four racks, arranged in rows) might be better served by a floor-mounted system.
‘Downflow’ units may be more appropriate in spaces where increased cooling loads and air distribution are needed. To accommodate floor cooling, a raised floor is often installed in the room, with the air-conditioning subsequently distributed through the floor void.
Precision Air Conditioning
Higher temperatures can cause CPUs to overheat or overstress their fans, leading to premature failure of the unit. Precision air conditioning can prevent these failures by managing the levels of room temperature and humidity more accurately.
While precision air conditioning units are more costly than standard types, they can be necessary for protecting equipment that is sensitive to changes of heat and humidity. As a general safe rule, air temperatures in server rooms should be maintained in the 18-27C range, with a relative humidity of between 40% and 60%.
It is important to bear in mind that even the best precision systems will not perform optimally if the air balancing is not coordinated, designed and commissioned properly in accordance with the cooling loads.
Geoinfo's extensive project experience has shown that built or false ceilings are generally unsuitable features for server rooms. Chiefly, this is due to the overhead space requirements for an air conditioning return air path and downflow unit. Incorporating ceilings will only complicate the already limited headroom available, but for some hub rooms and smaller server rooms they are occasionally left in place.
Flooring & Raised Floors
The cables and cooling apparatus required for a server room or data centre often makes raised flooring a ‘must’ for these facilities. Raised flooring usually comprises of panels finished with a high pressure laminate material and installed atop pedestals, allowing for easy removal for access to the space below.
Raised floor components may also need to be grounded. Whether raised or not, flooring materials need to be antistatic to prevent sparks from occurring. Fire suppression for floors raised over a certain height may also be required by code. Raised floors can also raise additional design questions, such as whether ramps will be required for the movement of equipment in and out of the room.