The Ergonomic Data Center: An Ode to the Column

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Chris Crosby is CEO of Compass Datacenters.

chris-crosby-tnCHRIS CROSBY
Compass Datacenters

The Merriam and Webster dictionary defines the word “ergonomic” as follows: “The parts or qualities of something’s design that make it easy to use.”

If this definition in no way describes your data center, you’re not alone. Although a number of factors go into the design of the average data center, the ease of its use for you and your personnel is not among them. Interestingly enough, no one ever talks about the “little things” that would enable a data center to actually promote more efficient operations. Let’s face it, if zoning ordinances didn’t require it, the average site would probably feature what could be euphemistically described as “detached modular” toilet facilities.

This two-part series is designed to help you identify areas within your next data center that can, and should be, addressed to make sure that your new site accommodates your requirements rather than the other way around.

Sometime in the long distant past, college educators decided that all future sheepskin recipients could not go out into the world without an appreciation for the virtues of ancient art and architecture. From this humble beginning the “art in the dark” class was born in which many of sat dutifully in our seats as countless pictures of ancient treasures passed before our eyes in an effort to ensure that we would never confuse a Goya with a Rembrandt–at least until after we had taken the final.

As we all remember, our study of classical architecture included an in-depth analysis of columns and the temples and arenas they adorned. In the ancient world, columns were everywhere. I don’t know if the Greeks invented them, but they sure had a lot of them, and the Romans were pretty big fans of them as well. As a result, don’t we all think adding a little Greek revivalist into the design mix lends an air of class to any building? Would the White House or the Capital building look half as nice without their respective architectural nods to the ancients? Perhaps the one place where we can live without this Greco-Roman influence is in our data centers.

What’s The Point of Columns, Anyway?

Since most of you have spent more than a little time inside a data center, I think you’ll agree that their designers must be big fans of the ancients, particularly in the area of columns, since most facilities have more of them then the Parthenon. For example, columns are commonly found within most multi-tenant data centers (MTDC). Because of the size of these sites, they serve a very important role—they hold the roof up. This make sense when you consider the fact that no one wants to see a few million dollars worth of servers and storage gear crushed beneath several tons of concrete and steel.

Unfortunately, this architectural necessity can cause serious layout issues. In short, columns get in the way. At a time when on-floor layout options are at a premium, the possibility of stranding capacity due to the giant pole sitting amid your row of your high-density servers is an issue you’d probably choose to avoid. As many of us have concluded through our personal experiences, while the Greeks may have loved them, the column is not your data center friend.

Building Size, Room Size

Along with their devotion to the column, our toga clad ancestors were big fans of large buildings. Who doesn’t like to have a little elbow-room when attending a Gladiator match or bacchanalian festival? In terms of layout flexibility, doesn’t this desire for usable space make the limitations imposed by today’s pre-fabricated modular offerings about as useful to the average end user as sandals were to Achilles? Featuring average dimensions of approximately 12’ by 40’ due to their needs to fit on a flatbed for transportation, these solutions offer less than 500 square feet of space. Fine, perhaps, for the emperor’s box at the Coliseum, but not so much if you are trying to configure applications with load groups measured in anything over a few hundred kW.

Since, as ancient architects understood, in terms of layout flexibility, square footage isn’t necessarily all the same, it is important to understand the configuration of your prospective data center in advance. Understanding the physical features that can limit your layout options is essential when selecting a data center provider.

This is one of those things where it’s better to identify it upfront versus being unpleasantly surprised later on. Although the penalties for not understanding the impact of your data center’s design on your ability to support your applications aren’t as draconian as in the days of our Greek and Roman forefathers, they could make you wish you’d stayed awake more often during class.

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