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10 Errors to Avoid When Commissioning a Data Center
Commissioning Data Center is also known as :
data center planning,
data center construction,
data center projects,
efficient data center,
commissioning critical facilities,
Data center commissioning can deliver an unbiased evaluation of whether a newly
constructed data center will be an operational success or a failure. Proper execution of the
commissioning process is a critical step in determining how the data center operates as an
integrated system. The documentation produced as a result of commissioning is also the
single, most enduring value added deliverable in a data center's operational life. This paper
outlines the ten most common errors that prevent successful execution of the
Data center commissioning is an insurance policy that helps to ensure the success of a data center design /
build project. A proper commissioning exercise reviews and tests the data center's physical infrastructure
design as a holistic system. Data centers are designed and built in order to address corporate business
requirements. Commissioning validates the investment by providing a framework for successful operation of
the data center.
Publicly traded companies should consult with their audit departments to determine whether they are
required to enlist an independent commissioning agent to help manage the commissioning process. In most
cases an independent commissioning agent is recommended because commissioning documentation can
sometimes appear in publicly released corporate documents such as annual reports. These types of
documents mandate impartiality.
The purpose of this paper is to highlight the ten most common errors that occur when organizations attempt
to commission their data centers. This paper does not review the formal methodology required to
successfully commission a data center. For details on the theory behind commissioning, including common
inputs and expected outputs, please consult White Paper # 148 "Data Center Projects: Commissioning".
Error #1: Failure to Engage the Commissioning Agent
Prior to Data Center Construction
The commissioning agent provides the fuel that makes the commissioning process run. The more
knowledgeable the commissioning agent, the more value can be derived from the commissioning exercise.
The commissioning agent needs to be engaged early in the process, weeks or months before the data
center is constructed. Early involvement of the commissioning agent allows for the proper planning, helps in
the coordination of vendor start ups, and lays out a comprehensive framework for testing.
Unfortunately, commissioning is sometimes an afterthought and the commissioning agent is hired at the last
minute, just before the data center is scheduled to go online. This "after the fact" approach results in poor
test scripting and unreasonably compressed time schedules. As a result of this short-sighted planning, data
center performance after cutover is subjected to a higher risk of downtime.
|Chaotic commissioning process
with high degrees of stress and
|| Incomplete testing and poor
stakeholders, vendors and the
|| Engage the commissioning agent
under contract several weeks prior to
construction of the data center.
Error #2: Failure to Align with Current Technology
Even an independent commissioning agent can incorporate outmoded testing procedures. Testing
procedures need to take into account the technological age of the equipment being commissioned.
Outmoded procedures are still regularly employed in numerous situations.
When commissioning a delta conversion on-line Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), for example, the
commissioning agent may employ testing procedures that were originally developed for a traditional double
conversion on-line UPS topology. This confuses the testing and command center teams since certain
procedures will not make sense. The outdated procedures may also fail to test the critical functionality of the
UPS's topology-specific interior design.
|The data center experiences
significant failures after the
||Time delays if re-commissioning is
required. Unanticipated downtime.
||Employ updated testing procedures
consistent with the technology
generation of the equipment being
Error #3: Failure to Identify Clear Roles for
Commissioning Team Members
A commissioning team consists of multiple groups of people. The team can include IT, data center
operations, facilities and business unit personnel from the owner side as well as architect / engineers,
interior designers and consultants from the design team, sub-contractors, project managers and program
mangers from the contractor team, product representatives from the suppliers and vendors and also the
independent commissioning agent.
All team members should have clearly defined roles in the commissioning process. Various team members
from the commissioning agent and owner side can form the command center group. Depending upon the
size of the project, the command center can consist of one individual or can be represented by a team of
multi-functional individuals. The principal responsibilities of the command center team include process
safety, communications, documentation, and emergency response.
IT and facilities personnel are most often charged with performing the actual data center equipment
commissioning tests, often working in conjunction with equipment vendor representatives. These groups
must focus on safety and on executing procedures in the proper sequence.
|Multiple individuals are attempting
to fulfill the same role, or several
individuals are taxed with too many
||Invalid test results, delayed testing
schedules, need to repeat tests,
and possible injury.
||Clear delineation of roles of vendors,
consultants, commissioning agent,
facility and IT staffs in terms of who
performs which series of tasks.
Error #4: Failure to Validate the Commissioning Script
The commissioning script is the roadmap that leads the commissioning team through the process. The script
consists of line by line procedures that are communicated by the command center and executed by the
testing team. All members of the team work from the same script. The author of the script is the
commissioning agent. He / she assembles the script based upon weeks of interaction with various
equipment vendors and IT and facilities staff.
During actual commissioning, the commissioning agent acts as a conductor of an orchestra. The team
members are all like musicians with special skills. The script can be compared to the sheets of music that all
the musicians follow, line by line. The script needs to be rehearsed by all the players involved. Any deviation
from the script places overall system performance at risk.
|The script is unclear and is
misinterpreted by various
members of the team.
||Commissioning tests experience a
series of false starts and
commissioning steps are
||Rehearse the script prior to
commissioning with team members to
make sure all procedures are
Error #5: Failure to Survive Project Budget Cuts
Data center design / build projects represent a major capital investment to the owner and are crucial to the
success of the business. As the data center launch date approaches, pressure increases to shorten time
cycles and to cut costs.
Periodic reviews of the design / build project often result in outside groups unfamiliar with the project
process, making recommendations on how to cut costs. Commissioning is often perceived as an easy target
for cuts, particularly if the original construction schedule did not include time for commissioning tests.
Sometimes, suggestions will be made to curtail the commissioning agent's contract and to compress the
testing schedule or scope. Acquiescing to budget cuts as it pertains to commissioning will open the door to
increased human error and downtime once the new data center is in operation. The long term negative
consequences on overall performance will far outweigh the short term benefits of project budget cuts if
commissioning is targeted.
|Budget cuts under the guise of
"value engineering" diminish the
role of the commissioning agent.
||Commissioning schedules are
curtailed and this introduces
additional opportunities for human
||Incorporate commissioning budgets
early in the project process and be
prepared to often restate the benefits
Error #6: Failure to Simulate "Real World" Heat Loads
In the past, the proper tools did not exist for the commissioning agent to perform holistic integrated testing.
Computer room air conditioners (CRACs), power, and site support systems were tested in a serial manner
and notes were compared to validate whether one system would have an adverse impact on another.
The migration from mainframe to rack-based data centers has rendered this practice obsolete. The heat
generated by higher density servers now has a major impact on physical infrastructure components which,
in turn, support the uptime of the servers. For example, when commissioning an Uninterruptible Power
, the data center electrical load is often simulated by utilizing very large, exterior resistive
heating units. These heating units often arrive on the back of flatbed trucks and are wired to the output
section of the UPS.
The problem with this scenario is that only the UPS is tested, ignoring, for example, the cooling system. The
UPS is not tested as part of an integrated system. Since one piece of equipment that generates heat can
affect the performance of another piece of equipment in the data center, only a partial evaluation can be
made as to how the data center will function once it is up and running. Unfortunately, racks, air conditioning,
and power equipment must be installed and tested prior to the arrival of servers. This traditional approach of
utilizing exterior resistive heating units is problematic from an integrated commissioning perspective.
However, new tools have been introduced that accurately simulate the heat generated by real, rack-based
server loads. This artificial load is comprised of resistive heating units installed within the racks. These units
mimic that rack's particular design load. With this artificial load installed and operational, the commissioning
agent can now test UPS capacity, emergency power, cooling capacity and facility management along with a
host of other subsystems in an integrated fashion.
|"Best guess" analysis on how
individual equipment components
will impact performance and
reliability of the data center as a
||Increased likelihood of costly
downtime once the data center is
||Deploy tools that allow for genuine
holistic testing and monitoring of the
data center physical infrastructure
Error #7: Failure to Identify Weak Links in the System
Numerous potential pitfalls exist which must be flushed out during the commissioning process. These weak
links can exist in several layers of the physical infrastructure element.
The UPS integrated commissioning test, for example, will place critical stresses on the UPS batteries. Each
test reduces the amount of battery charge available for future tests. After several tests that require the UPS
to switch to battery, the overall amount of available battery runtime is severely reduced.
Each segment of the integrated commissioning test needs to take available battery run time into account. A
best practice is to allow for sufficient battery recharge after a major power drain test.
|Various component tests fail
||Extra time is spent diagnosing the
tests and the commissioning test
schedule needs to be extended.
||A checklist of anticipated functionality
inputs and outputs should be derived
for each critical component listed in
the test schedule.
Error #8: Failure to Publish Emergency Operational
The members of the data center construction and commissioning team may not necessarily be the same
individuals who are responsible for operating the equipment in the new data center.
Clearly viewable and accessible emergency operational procedures should be affixed to each piece of
physical infrastructure equipment. This procedure should also apply to key non data center support rooms
and to each Emergency Power Off (EPO) station. Examples of key non data center rooms include the
generator room, the UPS room (if separated from data center), and the chiller and pump room. It is also a
best practice to have a laminated set of "as built" drawings on the walls of each room to illustrate to all
interested parties how the data center was originally configured.
|Data center personnel have
trouble determining cause and
effect when they encounter
physical infrastructure equipment
||Overall data center operating
efficiency levels drop with an
increased risk of downtime.
||Post the emergency operational
procedures during the commissioning
process so that future data center
operators are informed and aware.
Error #9: Failure to Consider the Impact of Human
Fatigue on Test Results
Depending on the size of the data center design / build project, commissioning can be completed in a day,
on a three day weekend, or can take several weeks.
Integrated commissioning is one of the most demanding steps in the data center design / build process. The
employees involved work long and hard hours and are under constant high levels of stress. Many of the
individuals involved are sleep deprived and perform the commissioning on weekends after having worked
several weeks of extended hours. This scenario creates conditions that can lead to catastrophic human
The commissioning agent needs to consider the fatigue level of the staff. Did certain individuals working on
various tests just complete a full time shift? Will they be required to work around the clock? Does a backup
plan exist for individuals who are required to work longer than normal working hours? Fatigue is the principal
cause of human error during the commissioning process.
|Commissioning staff are
consistently logging 12 to 18 hour
||Employees will take shortcuts, or
lose concentration resulting in
personal injury or in the data
center deployment being delayed.
||Rotate staff during the commissioning
process so that each individual has a
backup who can step in and continue
to perform the testing. Assure that
work shifts are reasonable.
Error #10: Failure to Update Commissioning
Once the new data center is commissioned, data center operations staff personnel are likely to change over
time. If the commissioning information is kept up-to-date, then the data center knowledge base remains with
the company and not with the individuals. The commissioning documentation can serve as the principal
source for training of new employees. In addition, the commissioning documentation can serve as a baseline
to determine when management should consider upgrading or moving the data center.
|Root cause analysis of data center
failures is difficult or impossible to
||Operations continue without a high
level of confidence that uptime will
||Establish a disciplined documentation
update process to supplement the
initial commissioning documentation.
Commissioning is a process that, if not properly managed, can lead to a series of problematic data center
performance issues. Everything from the early selection of the proper commissioning agent to the thorough
documentation of the commissioning test results can influence whether or not the data center meets the
expectations of the business sponsors.
Commissioning requires a high level of coordination between vendors, facilities and IT department
personnel, mechanical and electrical engineers, the commissioning agent, and others. It also requires a
holistic implementation approach that begins early in the data center design / build life cycle so that a truly
integrated series of tests can be performed.
This paper outlines the key errors to avoid so that the commissioning investment produces long term steady
About the Author
Paul Marcoux is the Director of Education and Training at APC. His career has included senior positions in
financial, healthcare and technology industries over a span of 25 years. He has provided design,
engineering, and management services for over three million square feet of global IT spaces, from small
LAN rooms to state-of-the-art 2N data centers. Paul also holds degrees in electrical and mechanical