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The data centre ventilation revelation

Image: Adobe Stock / pinkeyes

Dean Moffatt, Schiedel’s Technical Sector Expert, explains how focusing on one often neglected section of the project – ventilation – can mitigate risk before data centre construction even begins.

Data centres are at the heart of many future technologies, meaning demand for new locations has risen rapidly. Between 2015 and 2021, their workloads increased by 260%, a figure that will likely rise in the coming years. These figures clearly underline that an increased and expanded data centre construction schedule is needed.

Yet expansion in this sector currently faces huge challenges. According to Savills, the planned development of facilities across Europe needs to more than double by 2025 to meet demand for new users, meaning demand is increasing for effective project management strategies that minimise delays. This why it is confusing that a key part of the building and commissioning process continues to be neglected – the flue.

Don’t sleep on flues

It may only be a small part of the build, but the flue’s importance should not be downplayed.  Ignoring its function can present problems, especially as it is key to designing out problems during construction, and safeguarding uptime if failures threaten to occur.

Specifically, flues are important in demonstrating a high level of fault tolerance, something crucial for achieving Tier IV classification. They also allow backup generators to run smoothly during mains outages, safely directing heat and excess air upwards.

But despite being an important cog in the data centre machine, these chimneys are often not factored in during initial construction phases. Yet by prioritising them early in the process, delays and problems can be anticipated and minimised before they cause havoc with the project’s timeline.

Planning ahead

This is all due to the importance of timing. If a product is incorrectly specified or installed late on, it can cause a domino effect that may impact the rest of the build. In turn, this can push back commissioning and risk a late handover to the owner or operator, potentially causing reputational damage for the parties involved.

Embracing new approaches to project and construction management can give businesses the means to avoid these situations. Schiedel’s ‘Critical Path,’ for instance, advocates prioritising flue technology expertise in the build’s early stages, rather viewing it as an afterthought. By doing so, more effective products can be specified and potential problems that could affect the project are identified in good time before disruption can occur.

For instance, factoring flues in early on can help stakeholders avoid contractors clashing on-site over HVAC equipment, or power cabling interfering with the area where a chimney is meant to be installed. In turn, this flue-first approach helps simplify installing flues at large non-commercial projects including data centres, creating efficiency, simplicity and opportunities for greater stakeholder coordination, allowing for more smooth-running operations.

Pressing for testing

Testing is another key part of the specification process that should be completed prior to installation. If carried out effectively, the OEM specialist and the contractor are more likely to detect potential issues during the design phase, rather than on the site. 

With data centres moving closer to urban areas due to lower latency and an increase in facility outages, this quality assurance process has become even more important. For example, generators running for longer can lead to issues if chimneys are not correctly specified. These include harmful fumes and excess noise generated by the backup power systems, which can pose problems for data centre owners and operators with facilities near residential areas.

Consequently, making sure that the flue is right first time is a crucial step towards avoiding complications once the data centre is live, benefiting and reassuring all facility stakeholders. If power is disrupted, a well-specified flue will allow operations to continue without the potential financial headaches and reputational damage these events can cause if not accounted for.

These factors make following the ‘Critical Path’ and engaging external expertise vital parts of a successful build, as it allows avoidable issues to be designed out of data centre projects ahead of any issues. From contractors who get paid on time, to owners and operators who need a reliable and resilient data centre facility, everyone can see long- and short-term benefits of such a strategy. As such, the message is clear – don’t forget the flue.

Dean Moffatt
Dean Moffatt
Technical Sector Expert at Schiedel

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