The Benefits of a Commissioning Specialist and BIM for Data Centres

By: Mark Rawlings

Date Published: January 20, 2020

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In a world full of tech giants, blockchain crypto currencies and cloud computing we are living in the era of the data revolution, where data and information are coined as the new gold and data centres are the proverbial treasure chests in which its stored. With data centres predicted to use 20 percent of all the world’s electricity by 2025 and emit up to 5.5 percent of all carbon emissions, data centre operators and clients are conscious of the need and responsibility to minimise this as much as possible.

Within the past year, we have seen a number of major data centre users committing to powering their facilities on 100% renewable energy. This is no easy feat as whilst data centres are required to operate 24/7, many renewable energy sources do not.

Achieving these lofty goals requires precision engineering and commissioning to ensure that systems are integrated in harmony and operating as efficiently as possible.

To achieve this, the commissioning specialist should work closely with the designers from the earliest stages of preparation and design. Research has shown that energy consumed by the engineering services involved in cooling a data centre can be over 40% of the total energy consumption and it stands to reason that this figure will be even higher in the Middle East.

There are many variables that affect how a facility and its engineering services perform. The commissioning quality assurance and planning process provides a clear definition of the desired functionality, usability, controllability, maintainability, environmental, comfort and energy performance criteria and verifies that these been achieved and sustained.

Experience shows that projects can often turn out to be more complex than originally thought, particularly when it comes to the integrated performance of the building and its engineering services. There is also evidence that where design or construction personnel adopt responsibility for commissioning process activities, design and construction tasks often get prioritised over commissioning works.

A high-quality commissioning management specialist can bring an independence and an inter-disciplinary perspective to the commissioning process that would otherwise be absent. The commissioning process can be introduced to new or existing facilities, ensuring engineering services are set to work to the specified performance requirements and deliver a facility that really works for individuals, businesses, society and the environment.

Commissioning-focused design reviews

The purpose of design reviews in the commissioning process is not to find mistakes.

It is to evaluate the design team’s process for achieving the outcomes needed by the Client, Stakeholders and Building Operators.

The commissioning manager will undertake reviews based the specific client performance outcomes, such as cooling loads, system resilience or redundancy, power quality, access control, maintainability, operator usability, and operating requirements.

Use and Benefits of BIM

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is an essential process for designing data centres with their complex engineering requirements and can add value in the following areas:

• Detailing for pre-fabrication for speed of delivery, improved quality and off-site commissioning.

• Pre-commissioning can be carried out in the BIM model to provide indications of how the systems will perform at varying conditions prior to the actual commissioning happening on site.

• Commissioning of individual modules in both the BIM model and factory before delivery to site can save time in the installation process.

• Linking all the equipment and system data to the BIM model creates a path for tracing the history of the design and installation to avoid errors with equipment selection and commissioning.

Integration and Resiliency

The resiliency and redundancy of a data center is the mission critical objective for stakeholders and building operators, in a sector where uptime is a critical metric. The introduction of a high quality, multi-disciplined commissioning management specialist ensures the interrelationship of the engineering services and its component parts are fully understood and set to work accordingly.

Ensuring the resilience required to maintain essential supply in the event of not only primary failures but also secondary failures is considered from the very beginning of a project and re-evaluated at each and every key stage of the commissioning process.

Operation, Maintenance and Training

The operating and maintenance (O&M) manuals play a vital role in enabling the building operators to safely and effectively operate their building and sustain its performance over the long-term. The commissioning management specialist will ensure that the correct information and documentation is included by independently verifying and managing the production. Further benefit is realised by allowing the commissioning management specialist to appoint a third party for the production of this document.

A well-developed O&M manual and training regime allows building operators to be able to take safe and effective control of the data centre immediately upon handover. Linking this data to the BIM model, or 2D drawings if a BIM model is not available, improves the ease of accessing this information, and decreasing the possibility of errors.

Initial Occupation and Post-Occupancy Aftercare

During the initial period of operating, the commissioning specialist observes and monitors the building and system performances. When combined with the feedback received from the building operators, this insight will enable the commissioning specialist to determine if performance outcomes are in accordance with the design intent and working as efficiently as possible.

The commissioning specialist will also work together with the building operators to troubleshoot any plant performance issues and fine-tune the building’s engineering services. Carrying out activities such as set points and re-adjusting cooling coil flow-rates. During the post-occupancy aftercare stage, the commissioning specialist will undertake seasonal commissioning works and fine-tune engineering services as the data centre loads, layouts and usages evolve.

This stage also provides an opportunity to understand the reasons why building performance may have exceeded, met or failed to meet the design intent and expected efficiency. A data centre that was commissioned during the winter months may perform differently and inefficiently during the summer months, further cementing the importance of seasonal commissioning activities.

The commissioning specialist will record and detail these changes ensuring they are incorporated into future designs and lessons learnt. All of these activities combined will help building operators get the best out of their data centres, help reduce energy consumption and ensure that wider sustainability objectives are met.