How FMs should prepare for and manage on-site data centres

Industry experts provide thoughts and advice on considerations to include when preparing for on-site data centres.

Driven by the need of organisations of all description to store and manage ever-increasing amounts of data, it is highly likely that FMs in all areas will be required to deal with questions arising from this, whether it is for the allocation of space to install new or further extend existing data centre equipment, or provide input to their organisation's requirements.

Although the emergence of cloud-based storage in recent years has provided a popular solution that has been adopted by businesses of all shapes and sizes, there is also a sizeable number of organisations that have established their own data storage facilities for a number of reasons.

The storage, processing and protection of data is now a major topic of conversation around the world, driven by news stories concerning breaches within major corporations that have seen the personal details of its clients or users of its services shared or accessed without the consent of those affected. Further to this, this year has also seen the updated General Data Protection Regulations come into force, requiring much more robust protective measures to be put in place.

Further to the above, there have been a number of advancements in technology and growing understanding of how these can be applied which may also have an impact on the decision on whether to establish a dedicated data centre. One example of these is the advent and growing appreciation of free cooling, which can deliver significant reductions in energy use and provide long term reductions of data centre running costs.

With FMs more likely to be required to have a working knowledge of all aspects involved in the running of each facility, it seems that appreciation of data storage is increasingly likely to be an area that they will have to consider, if it has not already become part of the many on-site operations they are tasked with managing.

Given the ‘perfect storm' of a number of elements that many consider to be driving the growth of the data processing market, we asked industry experts for their thoughts on whether it is now becoming easier to establish on-site data centres and the options that should be considered to ensure the correct decision is made.

Electrical Contractors' Association director of technical Steve Martin was the first of our contributors to highlight the expansion of the market, which "is set to grow exponentially by 2025". This will be driven in many ways by a high demand for new infrastructure to enable high-speed internet connections, he says.

"This market is also being driven by widespread efforts to reduce carbon emissions, modernise communications networks, and growing demand for data to be held ‘in the cloud'," Mr Martin continues. "As more businesses embrace on-site data centres, the associated costs of installing and maintaining them will fall. This in turn will allow a wider range of businesses to afford them.

"On-site data centres, or server rooms, can carry several advantages for businesses: they are the sole manager of their data facility and its security, they can modify their systems on their own terms, and they can expand as their business scales up," he says.

But despite the increased use of on-site data centres, a lack of client awareness about how data centres operate can sometimes be seen, including how to commission and maintain these in the correct way so they function at optimum efficiency and are treated as a critical business asset, says Mr Martin.

"This lack of understanding means that cost can be the primary consideration. This can mean the right people aren't always used to carry out the work, which can have severe long-term consequences for the client and their customer base if the technology subsequently isn't able to carry out the role it was designed for.

"This technology is the lynchpin of the digital economy. By ensuring that recognised guidance and best practices are available to clients and specialists, we can help the industry develop the position and the profile of its work - and the expertise of its people," Mr Martin concludes.

Further thoughts are provided on this topic by FSI Cloud Hosting general manager Tony Cohen, who additionally provides an outline of the many aspects that need to be fully appreciated before an on-site data centre is established.

"While recent years may have brought some simplification in the purely technical process of acquiring the hardware, configuring the hard/soft IT architecture and the ease of accessing reliable national/ international datacoms networks, any organisation considering its own data centre must ask the crucial question What business are we in?. And organisational size, in particular, matters," Mr Cohen states.

If data is a core asset of the business then clearly investment in an on-site, inhouse data centre needs consideration as an element of its corporate strategy, he continues. He also states that this should not just apply to in-house CAFM data, but include information relating to the customer, marketing, product, financial and other aspects of each organisation and this may also be the case for a large FM outsource supplier with a portfolio of customers' CAFM data to house.

"However, the investment and on-going cost/maintenance considerations for a true data centre (as opposed to housing CAFM data on a server in a comms room) really do question the mission of the organisation concerned. Apart from the IT and network/ communications technology, physical architecture (and space costs), physical and IT security, manpower, environmental control and business continuity (off-site back-up/duplication of the facility) must all be considered. This can quite easily be seen to become the setting up of a business within a business," Mr Cohen states.

Added to these consideration needs to be given to extensive capacity planning, he continues. With the growth of the internetof-things in particular, the accumulation of ‘big data' stands to challenge established understanding of data housing for CAFM and other disciplines. Flexibility and rapid expandability will become even more important.

"Moving to an in-house data centre solution is clearly a challenge that extends beyond the remit of only those with FM management responsibility. It presents a challenging business case for those who advocate it," says Mr Cohen.

ABM Critical Solutions divisional director Gary Hall explains how the advancement of technology is another element to consider in this area: "Over the last few years, we are seeing more and more on-site data centres emerging. As technology improves, critical equipment can be downsized and held in smaller, more accessible sites," he says.

"By building your own data centre, you can choose a location that suits your needs from an energy reduction perspective. For example, some data centres are built next to the coast which utilises sea water for hightech cooling systems, while others are built to utilise natural air for free cooling.

"The energy savings in these cases are often significant enough to counter the initial cost of building your own data centre."

Mr Hall further explains that from a maintenance perspective, many businesses are drawn to the freedoms that come with on-site data centres. As businesses become more switched on to the importance of technical cleaning regimes, there is an attraction to being able to choose the most suitable provider and implement a bespoke cleaning schedule, rather than being tied to what is specified in colocation contracts.

While the ease of outsourcing this is a draw for some, he explains, many now want to have full control of physical contamination measures and environmental checks as well as security levels and isolation processes.

"However, businesses should be mindful about the level of cleaning they implement. Over the years there has been a gradual increase in businesses who offer ‘technical cleaning services' at cheaper rates; but you should always select a cleaning company who is fully experienced in data centre cleaning with all the relevant security credentials.

"The risk and potential cost of something going wrong with inexperienced operatives in the data centre space is not worth the facevalue saving," Mr Hall concludes.

It seems that the need to consider all the advice included above will provide a valuable source of reference for all FMs whose facilities currently include on-site data centres or are likely to do so in the future.

Those required to be involved in the creation of new, on-site data storage centres will inevitably see an increase in their workload as a result, but following the correct procedures explained by our experts will at least be able to avoid the more common errors, while engaging with the most suitable and competent service partners will deliver yet more long-term benefits in a number of highly relevant areas.