5 Questions to Ask Before Embarking on Data Center Construction

Data Center Maintenance


Parker March 28, 2017

Determinations to make for any data center project

There comes a time in a company’s evolution when a few servers and filers in a closet are no longer sufficient for business needs. When a more robust data center is required, how is it best to proceed? Before starting on construction of an in-house data facility, it’s vital to know what to ask and also who to consult for answers.

Below are five important determinations to make in advance of any data center project.

  1. Should I build or buy?

    Years ago, outsourcing data center requirements wasn’t usually an option. Limited provider availability and expensive bandwidth made building on site the obvious choice. But today, colocation and cloud resources, not to mention affordable high-speed connectivity, make in-house data centers an option, not a requirement. An imperative first step is to check whether a wholesale provider can meet expected business needs at a cost that is on par or better than that of building and operating a wholly owned data center. Offsite options may offer a turnkey solution, without the hassle of data center construction and potentially with lifetime savings over a DIY approach.

  2. Do I build one data center or many?

    For organizations that decide to go ahead with data center construction, the next question is how many facilities to build. It’s important to consider whether a single data center can service the entire corporation. How will outlying locations connect? Are corporate applications region-specific? If so, it may be better and cheaper to create multiple data centers, rather than move applications and services around the world and provide tie-back access to outlying offices.

  3. How big is big enough?

    Perhaps the most difficult part of the process is to determine physical specifications. The question is not only how much physical space is required today, but also how much space will be needed in 10 or 15 years to accommodate projected growth? Overestimate and you overspend on real estate and facilities construction. Underestimate and there can be serious consequences when the organization outgrows the data center, if adjacent space is not available to expand and/or enhanced infrastructure capabilities cannot be brought in. Planning should extend beyond square footage and take into account power requirements, cooling requirements, backbone internet connectivity, etc.

  4. Who will build it?

    Even a relatively small company building a new data center will require an engineering firm, a construction contractor and numerous sub-contractors. As these outside firms are selected, it’s equally important to establish who will manage these teams. In terms of specifications and progress monitoring, are there industry standards to meet? How about best practices to guide the process or the data center requirements? Often bringing in experienced experts early on in the process can spare difficulties down the road.

  5. How much availability do we need?

    There are four standard data center tiers, which reflect differing expected uptimes (for more information, see our article here). Of course, it’s an attractive to maximize uptime, but it’s important to note that the cost of a top-tier data center (Tier 1) can quadruple that of a Tier 4 model. It’s thus essential to appropriately gauge the organization’s true uptime requirements. What service level agreements (SLAs) will the company be held to? What will be the cost of downtime—in terms of revenues, customer relationships, internal productivity, etc.? How do these costs compare with those of building a higher tier facility? With this information in hand, a useful cost-benefit analysis can be conducted and an appropriate data center tier selected.

Fortunately, for most IT pros, building a data center is a once-in-a-career opportunity. But given the planning, expense, and importance to the business, when the challenge presents itself, it’s critical to get it right. Despite the pressure that may descend as the organization outgrows existing IT facilities, take the time to do thorough evaluation of business needs, to scope the project, and to note potential pitfalls. When in doubt, bring in outside expertise. Consultations may seem expensive, but the cost pales in comparison to a misconceived data center construction project that fails the organization over the long term.

About the Author

Parker, Park Place Assistant