Business Justifications for a Custom Data Center

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This the fifth article in series on DCK Executive Guide to Custom Data Centers.

The business case for custom data centers are sometimes driven by special technical requirements, rather than a better ROI. In those cases, the IT architects should be asked to make a solid business justification for its long term viability of the specialized IT hardware, as well as the competitive advantages of the leading edge technology.
However, if some reasonable compromise and proper research is done prior and during the design phase, it may be possible to deliver a custom built data center with minimal impact on the long term TCO (refer to part 2 “Total Cost of Ownership”). A case in point is the high density cooling requirements of blade servers or other high powered densely packed IT equipment sometimes called “server farms” used for large internet driven applications and also for “hyper scale” computing. Older data centers that were not designed to handle these higher density cooling loads, had difficulty in properly cooling the equipment and typically were forced to “overcool” in an effort to deal with heat loads beyond their design capacities. This resulted in wasted energy, which raised energy based operating costs.

More recent designs can handle some level of higher densities, but are not necessarily able to cool in the most energy efficient manner (see part 3 “Energy Efficiency”). A custom data center specially designed for high density systems can effectively handle the high cooling loads and also maximize the energy efficiency. However, before committing to a custom extremely high density design, be aware that if it is not fully utilized at or near its maximum capacity, the projected CapEx and OpEx numbers will not be realistic. This also relates to the question of facility ownership vs leased facilities, which is also a significant part of the TCO portion of business justification (please refer to part 1 “Build vs Buy”). There are public relations related factors involved such a sustainability related to the use of energy as well as the source of energy, as was dis¬cussed above in the Alternate and Sustainable Energy Sources section.

The Bottom Line

While IT systems continue to evolve at an ever accelerating rate and the physical facility tries to allow for “future proofing”, yet still keeping to a reasonable semblance of adhering to current industry standards. The leading data center designers are torn between trying to anticipate upcoming perceived change in IT equipment and providing the flexibility to support it, yet continuing to provide the support for mainstream systems. This flexibility should be taken into consideration when looking at a custom design.

If you are a typical mid-size to large enterprise organization that is using primarily standard IT hardware you may want to stay within the typical designs for a traditional data center, perhaps with a modicum of customization which may well be accommodated with a “build to suit” offering. Even if you decide to build and own your data center, you still need to consider that your organization may need to sell or lease it out in the future. This could be driven by any number of reasons, such as out-growing it, a merger or acquisition or even downsizing. A highly customized data center may be harder to sell or lease out.

If you have carefully examined your IT roadmap and business requirements and taken a holistic approach to the long term goals, you may find that a custom solution may be a good long term investment, that produces a technical competitive advantage and a lower TCO, however do not be swayed simply because a certain design is the “latest trend”. Long term reliability and maintainability is still a critical element for the data center.

On the other side of the fence if you are a multi-site Internet services driven organization that plans to operate specially designed or unique non-standard IT hardware, you may want to take advantage of some of the more esoteric designs that will provide a technical performance edge, or deliver an extremely high level of energy efficiency, but perhaps with a lower level of physical power and cooling system redundancy.

Once you have a clear understanding and justification of your IT architecture, systems and strategies requirements and have decided on a build-to-suit or a highly customized design, it is imperative that you interview design and build organizations and select the one that you are comfortable with. They should have demonstrated experience in delivering standard data centers, as well as an open-minded design staff that are within their comfort zone to think outside the box, both figuratively and literally.

You can download a complete PDF of this article series on DCK Executive Guide to Custom Data Centers courtesy of Digital Realty.

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