by Kim Borg
What happens when an organization experiences rapid growth due to an expanding client base but has an aging data center – housed in a building that has reached its electrical design maximum – and a local power company that is unable to provide additional capacity? The answer lies in seeking out expert guidance – and fast.Clearly, this Southeastern U.S. financial services company and its IT team needed a data center that was equipped to meet not only the business’ current processing, storage and networking requirements but also, more importantly, its ever growing future demands.
Whereas the average data center in the United States is about 20 years old, this 30-plus year-old data center’s life span had been extended well beyond its original design. Through consolidation, optimization and virtualization initiatives, the company had even been able to squeeze out an additional two years of power and cooling capacity.
Building A Better Business
So, what’s a burgeoning business to do? Well, that’s where the experts come in. The company engaged Forsythe (www.forsythe.com) – a company that specializes in IT infrastructure technology and integration – and its data center engineering practice to assess its existing 5,600-square-foot data center and determine the best approach for satisfying both current and future demands. A thorough 275-plus point assessment by Forsythe revealed that – as expected – the existing data center would be unable to take the organization where the business wanted and needed to go. As such, a new data center was recommended.
Good Things Come In Pairs: The Road to Building Twin Data Centers
Initially, the financial services organization decided that replacing their old data center environment with a new one was the best solution to their problem. However, as Forsythe took the company through the discovery process, a better – though decidedly unusual – solution emerged: design and build twin data centers, both about half the size of the planned single facility, to increase reliability and redundancy for the organization. These dual data centers, acting as active-active processing environments, would allow the IT organization the future option of downgrading or eliminating their external disaster recovery service and using some or all of the operational expense savings to offset the capital building costs.
Focusing on these priorities, Forsythe first developed various design scenarios for the two data centers, which was a key step in the process because the challenge with any data center design lies in ensuring each data center fits into its unique geographic location. While the exteriors may differ, the interiors needed to be designed identically to cultivate effective and efficient facility and IT operations.
Next, Forsythe created a data center “facility concept plan,” which was essentially a ‘road map’ providing preliminary scope of the project, preliminary floor plan drawings/schematics and a preliminary capital budget. Needless to say, designing and constructing a data is not only a large capital investment but also a rare occurrence, so building an approvable business cases requires significant time, effort and multiple plan iterations.
Distance Makes The Data Centers Grow Fonder
Forsythe also organized the site selection process, ruling out less ‘weather-friendly’ locations and ensuring each proposed data center would be serviced by separate electrical substations and different telecommunications central offices. It was crucial that the two data centers were far enough apart that a single episode of severe weather or utility outage wouldn’t affect both data centers simultaneously, yet close enough to the company’s headquarters so the firm could easily staff all three locations.
Once the project was approved, Forsythe oversaw the entire dual data center design and build from start to finish; this included assisting in general contractor and major subcontractor selection, supervising construction project management and commissioning the facilities.
The result: two flexible and modular state-of-the-art data centers, designed and built identically to support an active-active operational model. The facilities – which are about 20 miles apart – are both Tier Level III designs (providing 99.982% availability) with 6-kilowatt per cabinet footprint of redundant power, ultra-efficient UPS and N+1 cooling. Each facility also boasts multiple level physical security, which includes numerous cameras, a building management system and an integrated audio/visual system. Additionally, all intra-data center communication is achieved via 10GB fiber unified solutions.
These two data centers will not only help support the company’s future growth for years to come but also allow IT to deliver services more effectively, efficiently and at a lower cost. Also, the building systems technologies incorporated into these new data centers have set the standard for future technology upgrades to other non-data-center properties owned and operated by the company.
What’s more, Forsythe’s participation in the project yielded a financial result
$600,000 favorable to budget and allowed the project to be completed 90 days
ahead of schedule. Thinking outside the box – and outside the traditional data
center environment, in this case – clearly has its benefits.
Kim Borg is the editorial manager at WestWorld Productions, Inc., publishers of Computer Technology Review.