Data Center Commissioning: The Road to Day One Operational Readiness

When most people think about data, they imagine something largely immaterial –  zeroes and ones floating in cyberspace. For those of us in the construction and commissioning space, however, data is far from immaterial. For us, “data” evokes images of 300,000 square-foot facilities, rows upon rows of blinking servers, and an endless variety of buttons, switches, indicators, and control panels.

And, if you’re like most people in this industry, it probably evokes a fair bit of anxiety, too.  As critical infrastructure, with complex energy and climatic requirements, Data Centers are some of the most challenging facilities to construct and commission. And with the introduction of new technologies, increase in system integrations, and ever-accelerating construction schedules, data center commissioning isn’t getting easier anytime soon.

Thankfully, technology is working for commissioning providers as well. With purpose-built software solutions such as Facility Grid, commissioning providers can finally say goodbye to clumsy Excel spreadsheets, endless back-and-forth phone calls, and siloed stakeholders missing milestones. Here’s how you can leverage Facility Grid to help optimize your next data center commissioning project for day-one operational readiness:

Defining Success: What is Operational Readiness?

Operational readiness refers to whether or not a building is able to function in accordance with the owner’s project requirements (OPR) at the point of transition from construction to operation. There are three primary components of operational readiness – systems,  personnel, and information – each of which must work in concert with one another. The goal (and, increasingly, the expectation) is for a building to be operationally ready on Day One, for a seamless, immediate transfer of ownership; and to remain sustainably operational throughout its lifecycle. 

No matter what type of building you’re commissioning, Day One operational readiness isn’t an easy feat. With data center commissioning, it often feels downright impossible, yet expectations of day one operational readiness are becoming increasingly commonplace for data center commissioning. But, operational readiness isn’t only in the interest of data center owners – it’s the ideal success state for all stakeholders. Construction teams and commissioning providers alike benefit tremendously when they can fulfill a contract on time, as it frees them to pursue subsequent contracts, spares them the headache of post-occupancy callbacks, and inevitably leads to repeat customers. That’s why, today, it is essential that teams employ best practices and leverage the best tools available when commissioning data centers.

Make Owner Project Requirements a Must-Have Step One

The first and perhaps most important thing commissioning providers can do to ensure day one operational readiness is to engage all stakeholders as early on in the development process as possible. That means owners, providers, contractors, and even operational personnel should be engaged and working in close collaboration from development of the Owner Project Requirements (OPR) in the pre-design phase all the way through occupancy. 

Unlike most other buildings, once the switch is flipped “on” and a data center comes online, there’s no switching it back “off.” So, it’s imperative that all elements be fully operational before occupancy. The requirement for all functional and integrated systems testing to be 100% complete before the transition of ownership must be part of the OPR. Callbacks and outages are incredibly costly for all parties involved. Furthermore, the actual construction phase of a data center project is much shorter than in most facilities. So, make sure to make good use of the pre-construction phase, ensuring all stakeholders and teams are aware of, and in agreement with, the OPR.

Ensure a Shared Vision of Reality 

Day one operational readiness requires a carefully orchestrated and flawlessly executed plan. If your team is going to operate in synchrony you have to first ensure they are all operating from a single, shared vision of reality. Operating in silos makes it all but impossible to deliver a complex facility like a data center on schedule and without complications. Facility Grid anchors every stakeholder in the same reality, where all Cx team stakeholders including building owners, CxP, design engineers, general and trade contractors, and O&M personnel are referencing the same calendars, action items, test results, and other information. 

To make this process easier, Facility Grid also offers seamless integrations with popular construction management applications, such as Procore, as well as integration with 3rd party PDF markup tools like Bluebeam, iAnotate, Adobe, and others. This frees each team from their respective software silos without the need for retraining or new IT solutions. In addition, Facility Grid provides integration with the MS PowerBI analytics platform for enhanced visibility into the project’s state using custom KPIs.

Set Your Watch to Real-Time 

It’s still common to this day to see construction teams passing Excel spreadsheets back and forth at a job site. What many of these teams don’t consider is that the moment you click “Save” on an Excel spreadsheet, it’s out of date. Remember, data center commissioning and construction are accelerated processes with many moving parts involved. The moment a single test is run, or a document produced, your Excel spreadsheet no longer reflects the true, on-the-ground reality. Commissioning software solutions like Facility Grid give teams instant access to the true progress of Cx and QC activities, in the context of the overall project schedule. As a result teams can proactively address project issues and make informed decisions about where, when, and how to deploy time, energy and resources during the construction and commissioning process. 

Standardize, Templatize, Optimize

One of the worst things you can find yourself doing, especially when time is scarce, is “reinventing the wheel”. Data center construction schedules have accelerated greatly in recent years due in large part to the growing trend towards prefabricated and modular data center design. Today, roughly 80% of each new data center’s design is shared by, or common to, all new sites. Meanwhile the remaining 20% constitutes variations based on geography, climate, and other unique considerations. However, in order to reap any of the benefits that this trend offers to reduce project schedules, data center commissioning has to implement its own version of prefabrication or modulation.

So, things are simultaneously more complex and more repeatable than ever before. But in order for commissioning providers to realize the benefits of standardization, it’s essential that they reutilize, standardize, and templatize as much as possible. Facility Grid allows you to do just that, by enabling users to create a collection of , any checklist and functional test templates  and any other manners of documentation including Cx Plan, Cx Reports, etc..  

Conclusion 

Data centers have become vitally important to practically every aspect of our daily lives.  As a result, they can’t afford delays, callbacks, or service outages. And when outages do occur, they take a heavy toll. According to a 2021 survey by the Uptime Institute, 62% of all “significant, serious or severe” data centers cost owners more than $100,000 and 15% of such outages exceed $1 million. That isn’t slowing anyone down, though. Despite the stakes being higher than ever, the average time to commission a new, 20-megawatt or larger data center has fallen to just 9 to 10 months – a small blip compared to the overall construction timeline such a facility requires. The good news is, just as things like technological innovation and efficiency standards are making things more complicated for commissioning providers, technologies like Facility Grid are helping to make life easier.