The seven steps of datacentre commissioning success
Paul Pompili, ISG divisional director
Historically, the subject of commissioning would be found somewhere close to the bottom of a long list of action points and priorities when planning and delivering a new hyperscale datacentre.
But more and more evidence has emerged that suggests this mind-set may be seriously undermining the ability to effectively deliver datacentre projects, particularly during an era of fast-track programmes and increasingly punitive service level agreements (SLAs).
Witnessing first-hand the transformation of this sector over the past decade, the drivers for success remain the same: to bring robust capacity online in the shortest possible timeframe.
Working at ISG, our formula for success focuses on getting out of the ground successfully and never losing sight of the commissioning process, which is integral to the entire project journey. This has helped ISG become one of Europe’s largest datacentre solutions providers, with over £1.5bn of projects delivered in the last five years.
But how? Here are my seven steps to explain why you should think again about commissioning:
Step 1: Integration with the design
The ability to commission equipment should be considered at the earliest stage of every project. Building in a commissioning schedule into the programme, sequencing how you will access equipment during the build process is essential. Time spent considering logistical challenges will be handsomely rewarded with seamless integration throughout the build programme.
Step 2: Planning
Get your technical services teams engaged at the outset – providing their input and insight into the design of buildings services at the initial stages where they can help develop a comprehensive schedule of the testing and commissioning process. Make the testing regime system simple, efficient and standardised – and most importantly transparent, so that commissioning is readily tracked and recorded centrally with a documentation output.
Don’t assume that technology will solve all challenges. Documentation is often grouped and not produced progressively resulting in the late release of vital documents and project delays. A comprehensive plan must include a phased schedule and record of necessary documentation.
Step 3: The factory acceptance test
Never make assumptions that products and systems will operate seamlessly unless you have the hard data to back this up. Not all products undertake a witnessed factory acceptance test, so unless you have verified data that you can successfully integrate these within your network, then you must validate compliance before installation begins. Costly and time-consuming issues can be avoided with a thorough interrogation long before any product arrives on site.
Step 4: Visual inspections
Sounds simple but it’s so often overlooked on a busy site. Make sure that any delivered equipment is visually inspected for signs of damage. Any defects should be immediately reported, and a swift resolution sought. Smart tags should be fixed to equipment to provide the unique identification of equipment and associated commissioning data during construction and post-completion.
Step 5: Site acceptance testing
Each product and service should be physically and independently tested on site to verify performance criteria and ensure alignment with the design and specification. This is considered as the SAT (Site acceptance testing). Remember, the physical testing operation is not synonymous with the release of the testing documentation, which needs to be independently tracked to ensure the process is completed.
Step 6: System operation verification
Data networks are at the heart of datacentre systems. All data transmission networks are to be independently certified ahead of any joint systems testing to ensure the communication between equipment is functional. The isolation and certification of these networks is the precursor to full operations testing, but it’s easy to get this sequencing wrong and create needless delays.
Step 7: Integrated system testing
The final integrated system test is the opportunity to observe the performance of a data centre at maximum design load. Absolute rigour and attention to detail is fundamental at this stage, measuring and accurately recording switch positions, environmental conditions and failure scenarios to ensure operational compliance. Efficient progression to this stage marks the operational handover of the datacentre.
Changing the conversation with our customers and key project stakeholders about the importance of commissioning has proved pivotal in our ability to meet expectations for faster, day one operational datacentre facilities.
By identifying those critical pathways and processes that can have the most detrimental impact on programme, we have enhanced project collaboration to deliver a better outcome. As technology advances, we can expect to see dynamic live reporting fall within our arsenal – however our adage will always remain the same – ignore the importance of commissioning at your peril.
For more information on our engineering-led construction approach to datacentre delivery, click here.