Data center site selection dilemmas? Read this

Choosing the right data center site requires wisdom to gauge all the things that can go wrong. Here's how selection of a data center site can be made simple and easy.

Setting up a data center from scratch is like building a house. Several factors such as site selection to costs, safety and fulfillment of long term requirements have to be taken into consideration. The most important factor to consider here is researching the cost, considering the budgets set aside for this venture.

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Saji P K, the senior vice-president of global infrastructure operations for Sify Technologies, points out that the key cost elements are power and cooling, apart from the data center's physical aspects. However, some of these could be optimized with selection of the right site, coupled with availability and access to data center facilities. Beside this, several other elements also play an important role, which we will analyze in this story.

Making a checklist

A major portion of the data center's physical costs is on the servers. The infrastructure cost typically includes purchase (or lease) of the building, UPS, cooling systems, generator, electric supply and systems. As Navin Agrawal, the executive director of advisory services for KPMG in India advises, "When setting up a large data center, it's essential to understand the building's construction cost and quality."

While the above factors are important, summing up the costs is security, which include both the physical and logical aspects. The security aspect also comes into play while selecting the data center site.

The most obvious data center site is one that is least likely to be affected by natural disasters. But there are unnatural factors too. Shiva Shankar, vice-president & head - IT Infrastructure & Security - Ops & Engg, Reliance Tech Services suggests, "From my experience of working on data center projects, I think one should consider locations away from major highways and railroads in order to reduce evacuation risks from toxic spills. Also, the location should not be close to hazardous production facilities and aircraft flight corridors." A kilometer away from a highway is a good choice, as one should consider the commuting comfort of employees as well.

In the wake of terrorism, it has become a vital factor to look for sites that are not targets of terrorist attacks. Disasters like internet security threats (denial of service attacks, etc) should also be kept in mind.

It would be wise to keep a checklist before scouting for a data center site. Organizations can use the TIA-942 (Telecommunications Industry Association) checklist which has pointers that one needs to consider, such as telecom & equipment, architectural, and electrical & mechanical requirements.

Shiva adds some more interesting points, "Is the local telephone exchange capable of delivering the required communications services? And is there a second exchange? Is the location notorious for disruptions in utility services?"

It makes sense to ensure aspects like sufficient area for parking, water and fuel storage; space for delivery truck access and so on.

Facing up to the challenge

It's interesting to note that Indian CIOs are likely to face more barriers in selecting a data center site compared to their global counterparts. As Agrawal says, "The CIO and team may face challenges in terms of availability of multiple communication channels (leased circuits, satellite connectivity, etc), dedicated power supply, availability of skilled labor, availability and maintenance support for servers and infrastructure components."

Uninterrupted power supply is another major problem. Saji has his views on this aspect. "This is a constant debate in India. Most states in India suffer power outages, not to mention the quality of power and its distribution. Data center players get ready with alternate sources of power like diesel generators that escalates your CAPEX by 15-20% and OPEX by more than 20%."

Alternate sources of energy like solar power can always be explored. Shiva says, "Adding a large photovoltaic array to the roof of a data center raises its profile, and adds a reliable source of clean power."

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