Best Practices for Data Center Design

Updated: May 18, 2010

The following points are considered minimum requirements for a properly implemented data center or server room.

  • Provide a single entrance secured with either electronic key card, or dead bolt lock.
  • Use a copy prohibited dead bolt key system; maintain a complete inventory of all key assignments.
  • Use key code locks as a last resort as the code is often shared with unauthorized personnel.
  • If a key code system is used, change the code often, at least monthly.
  • Provide electronic key card systems should allow for easy inventorying, activity tracking, zone management and reporting.
  • Alarm systems should be employed on all entrances where appropriate.

Server Room Environment

Provide a separate HVAC (cooling) system to ensure a proper operating environment. The return air temperature and relative humidity should be adequately controlled. There should be sufficient clearance between the AC unit and computer rack to avoid potential damage from water leaks as well as to allow for maintenance access. Redundant cooling systems should be considered.

Determining how much power is required for the data center may be complex and a certified electrician may need to be engaged to determine the maximum load ratings for each piece of hardware that will be in the data center and to ensure the power circuit will be adequate. All server rooms and or data centers should have dedicated power circuits. At a minimum, all critical IT equipment should be on battery backup systems or UPS units. Best practice would be to provide backup power generation if practical.

On average, 45 to 60 watts per square foot is typical. However a densely packed data center may require 80 to 100 watts per square foot. Estimate the number of outlets required and their approximate placement. For any floor-mounted outlets, consider using power whips (outlets attached to flexible cabling) instead of fixed outlets to allow some flexibility in moving server racks.

Consider isolating cooling and ventilation power onto its own circuit to prevent power fluctuations. All power cables should be shielded in a flexible steel conduit encased in a cooper shield to prevent electrical noise (EMI) from reaching your network cables and equipment.

Efficient data centers are designed to utilize space effectively. Equipment racks allow better use of vertical space and can provide some protection from dust, but they can be misused if poorly configured. Avoid overloading racks in terms of weight, power requirements and cables.

Proper cable management can reduce troubleshooting time dramatically. Determine specific zones for cable runs and keep them away from electrical lines. Be sure to keep fiber and copper cables on separate runs as the weight of copper cables can crush fiber optics.

Color coding cables greatly simplifies management, and properly labeling individual cables will save countless hours trying to trace a bad cable.

Well designed data centers provide for means of automatic monitoring of environmental conditions including temperature, fire alarms, water sensors, etc. The automatic shutdown of systems (software and hardware) based on environmental conditions can be implemented to reduce potential damage.

Ensure water sources are not running overhead and/or can present potential risk from overhead ceiling gaps, duct work, etc.

The room must accommodate all current equipment with additional room for growth. Allow enough space for cabling and access to the side and back of server racks or shelves and other equipment. Computer racks should have adequate clearance per manufacturer specifications. Packing server racks too close together will not only make it difficult to work in the server room, it will restrict air flow as well.

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