10 Considerations in Building a Global Data Center Strategy

It would be imprudent to oversimplify all the tangible and intangible elements that need to be fully understood and evaluated when creating a global data center initiative. Yet here are ten things to consider when building your global data center strategy.

Julius Neudorfer

February 20, 2013

9 Min Read
10 Considerations in Building a Global Data Center Strategy

It would be imprudent to oversimplify all the tangible and intangible elements that need to be fully understood and evaluated when creating a global data center initiative. Yet here are ten considerations to evaluate when building your global data center strategy. This is the forth article in a series on Creating Data Center Strategies with Global Scale.

1) Site Selection and Risk Factors – Knowing Where to Build
Once you have selected a general geographic area, it takes a very experienced team to fully evaluate the suit-ability of a foreign location to build a new data center. Identifying risk factors, both the obvious ones, such as known seismic or flood zones, or the less obvious ones, such as adjacencies to “invisible” but potential hazards, such as airports and their related flight paths, must be an essential part of the final decision.

2) Geopolitical Ownership Considerations
Beyond the basic factors related to physical and logistical resources, the political stability of the country and region should be considered. In some cases the nationality or type of organization of the owner or tenant may make it a target for local political factions.

Insurance costs and even the ability to get coverage may be impacted by building a data center in potential lucrative and growing markets, but which may have a higher risk profile, than a nearby country that has viable communications bandwidth into the target market.

However, be aware that in some volatile or politically restrictive countries, internet traffic is filtered, blocked and or monitored.

3) Global Risk Issues
Given the recent and more frequent catastrophic weather related events affecting even highly developed areas, we all need to review and perhaps re-evaluate our basic assumptions. While there is still some contention about how much Global Warming impacts the world, it is no longer a matter of “if”. Planning based on 100 Year Flood Zones may no longer be considered ultra conservative. The evaluation of any potential data center or other critical infrastructure site is not a cut and dried exercise. Geographic diversity for replicated or back-up sites is no longer an option, it is a necessity.

4) Extended Operation and Autonomy During a Crisis
Regarding availability and continuous operation, how much fuel should be stored locally (i.e. 24 hours, 3 days a week)? During a small localized utility failure 24 hours of fuel may be previously considered adequate, but given more recent events 3-7 days offers a better safety margin. During an extended widespread crisis, the relied upon expectations of daily refueling may prove to be difficult, if not impossible to achieve (case in point, Hurricane Katrina, and “Super Storm” Sandy). In some cases, so much of the general infrastructure was dam¬aged that even fuel availability and delivery to back-up generators became a severe problem (both for data centers, and their employees, limiting their ability to get to work). In the end, you will typically pay more for the co-lo with the greatest levels of redundancy, resources and better SLAs, but would be imprudent to assume that nothing will ever happen to impact the operation of your own data center because you are in a “safe” area. Storing more fuel may be a small overall price to pay for the extended autonomy and could be the difference between being operational or shut down during a major crisis.

Also understand that these same problems would potentially impact your communications providers, so investigate their capabilities for extended operations during a crisis. It is useless if your data center is operational, but your have no viable communications network during a major event.

5) Availability and Cost of Power and Water
Of course picking a site location that is physically secure and has reliable access to power, water and communications is an important first step. Since energy is the most significant operating cost of a data center, focus your attention on the cost of power and its long term impact. Energy costs are highly location dependent and are based on local or purchased power generation costs (related to fuel types or sustainable sources such as, hydro, wind or solar), as well as any state and local taxes (or tax incentives). In the United States rates vary but are generally low compared to some foreign markets. Internationally energy costs are higher and can vary widely. It is important to check local rates and look for utility and energy incentives. Some countries are offering tax and other incentives to build data centers. Another factor is location and long term overall market demand for constrained resources such as power and water, which can ultimately limit the data center capacity.

If the site is relatively remote and needs to be newly developed, be sure to factor in the cost of bring¬ing in new high voltage utility services, which can be expensive and require long lead times to have planned, approved and constructed.

Site selection can also directly impact the facility’s energy efficiency. The relative energy efficiency of the data center facility infrastructure is measured as “Power Usage Effectiveness” “PUE”), as well as the IT equipment use of power vs its computing performance. One of the largest uses of energy is cooling and is location dependent, since it is related to the ambient temperature and humidity conditions. With the rising acceptance of the use of outside air for “free cooling”, picking a location with a moderate climate can offer the opportunity to save a significant amount of energy cost over the long term, as well a lower initial capital investment by the reduced need for mechanical based cooling systems. For more details see part 3 of this series.

6) Water and Water Quality
Many conventional cooling systems use evaporative cooled chiller systems which require a significant quantity of relatively pure water (typically potable water from a municipal supply). Depending on the region, this may represent a significant problem, either because there is not enough to support a large data center or it contains too many impurities which can rapidly clog cooling towers. This needs to be investigated and evaluated, before the type of cooling system is selected. Many areas of the world have moderate climates using less water while also allowing significant savings for the energy used by cooling systems, which are the largest use of power besides the IT equipment itself.

7) Local Laws, Codes, Taxes and Tariffs
Meeting local building codes is always a necessity, however fire codes in particular have sometimes been problematic (even in the US), since they are enforced and controlled by local jurisdictions, even though they are presumably based on national standards. This can even impact your ability to insure the site, as well as the cost. Having a person with local knowledge and experience is important in getting approvals in a timely manner. It may be still cost effect to retain their services, even if you have your own trusted architectural firm as your primary resource.

8) Qualified Personnel
The skill level and technical knowledge of the local labor pool should be part of the evaluation. Site staff requires multiple skill sets that must be available 7x24 — both common skill sets such as administrative and physical security (guards), as well as technically qualified electrical and mechanical personnel. While this is true in any data center, in some foreign markets it may be more difficult and expensive to find, train, motivate and retain experienced and reliable personnel with the specialized skill sets required for a data center. This is an important consideration when planning a global net¬work of data centers.

In planning your human resource requirements, be apprised that local laws and general practices regarding employees will have different rules regarding working conditions and working hours, as well as the number of holidays, vacations and sick days, etc.

9) Support Issues for Equipment
While domestic companies have a broad choice of data center locations and major equipment providers, you should look carefully when expanding your operations into other parts of the world. You may need to consider equipment vendors other than those you normally have in your own home country.

If you plan on building your own data center facility in a foreign country, be aware that not all manufacturers of equipment and systems that you have used domestically have a presence in the area that you have selected to locate your new facility. Even major global vendors have stronger or weaker service organizations depending on region or country. There may be much greater lead times for spare parts (in many cases this requires that you have on-site spares kits)

Also expect extended lead times for delivery of major infrastructure equipment (generators, UPS, Cooling systems), for initial build-out and also for major expansion (modular or phased design). For more on this see part 1 “Build vs Buy”.

10) Expected and Unexpected Conditions
Beside regular maintenance of all the power and cooling equipment, there can be unanticipated expenses from unexpected equipment failures or external events, which can be significant. While this is true even in your home country, it can become a major issue on foreign soil, where there may be a much lower level of spare parts and technical resources. It may require a significantly higher investment in onsite spare parts than in your domestic market. Some of these costs may or may not come into play depending on whether you build and own your site or if you lease the site from a facility operator and it may be covered under the terms of the lease.

You must seriously consider the effect of a loss of a site, either temporarily or permanently, due to equipment failure, natural catastrophe or political upheaval. Even highly developed areas that were always considered relatively safe and stable can be subject to events that were never classified as serious risks. Japan’s critical infrastructure was heavily impacted by the tsunami that struck in 2011 and power was so constrained that some data centers were forced to shut down temporarily.

While the above events may give you cause for concern, in fact it should act as a catalyst and an opportunity to prepare for this eventuality. Business continuity and disaster recovery need to be considered initially as an inherent necessity, not as an afterthought. By strategically locating your data centers globally, you have the opportunity to proactively create a more robust business continuity information system capable of ensuring the overall survivability and availability of your organization’s critical computing resources.

You can download a complete PDF of Creating Data Center Strategies with Global Scale by clicking here. This series is brought to you courtesy of Digital Realty.

To catch more of the Executive Education series, consider attending the the Data Center Knowledge TCO Webinar.

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