• How to maximize data center life span performance

Two men looking at laptop computer in a network data center, energy management software, energy efficiency.
Understanding the five phases of a data center’s life cycle can help maximize ongoing performance

Just as good genes do not guarantee health and well-being, a good design alone does not ensure a data center will remain efficient over the course of its life span. But by understanding the five phases of the data center life cycle, owners and managers can avoid obstacles along the way. 

PHASE 1: Plan
Process, system concept and site selection: What are the best options?

The plan phase is pivotal to success or failure. The data center owner or manager needs to make foundational decisions about system architecture and budget; choose a model design for the system; and identify and validate any unique requirements that affect the system design. 

With the system concept in place, site evaluation can begin, factoring in financial considerations, including energy costs, tax preferences or incentives, and labor costs. What are the risks to availability and profitability? Are the location and climate suitable for the planned systems?


  • Choosing site before design criteria
  • Improper design criteria
  • Planning space before design criteria
  • Designing into a dead end
  • Overcomplicated designs
  • Misunderstanding PUE
  • Misunderstanding LEED
  • Poor cost-to-build estimate
  • Focusing on CAPEX rather than total cost of ownership

PHASE 2: Design
Documentation, requirements and the right people: What is the design focus?

Translation of planning results into schematics and construction documents is the focus of the design phase, but it’s also important to ensure the right people join the project at the right time. The design team will include IT and design engineers and may include an architect and mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers. The construction team comprises the general contractor and subcontractors for electrical, networking, mechanical and low voltage. The owner or manager should lead in selecting these teams and in reviewing all design outputs.

PHASE 3: Build
Construction, training and commissioning: How will the project proceed?

With expert teams onboard and construction underway, the owner or manager still has a key role in the project and should focus on progress, quality performance and scheduling risks. This includes reviewing and approving construction documents, building permits and change orders.

During the build phase, construction team documentation combined with equipment vendor expertise provides a training opportunity for the management team and staff. Commissioning also delivers valuable documentation that will improve facility operations. Although commissioning is an optional step, it accounts for the complexity of a data center by testing the overall system’s response to various real-world inputs and changes.

PHASE 4: Operate
Operations, maintenance and teamwork: What’s the secret to reliable performance?

The operate phase is the longest and costliest of the data center life cycle, up to 20 years for some.

A successful operations and maintenance (O&M) program addresses environmental health and safety, personnel management, emergency preparedness and response, training, and performance monitoring, along with proper management of maintenance, documentation, infrastructure, quality, energy, and finance. In addition, a “mission-critical” mindset and a culture of cooperation between the IT and Facilities staff helps anchor the program.

PHASE 5: Assess
Monitoring, performance and evaluation: What’s the current status?

The assess phase is often the most neglected; yet understanding how operators and the physical infrastructure systems are performing yields useful and actionable information. Ongoing analysis will reveal how the infrastructure is meeting design intent by assessing power, cooling, and space capabilities, and use trends.

This phase should also include a review of staff effectiveness and O&M program performance. For owners and managers, ensuring a commitment to reviewing and acting upon results can mean the difference between a safe, reliable facility and one that underperforms.

Managing for the long term
Whatever the expectations are for a data center’s life span, owners and managers can better prepare to deliver continued reliability and performance by understanding the nature, tasks and pitfalls of the five life-cycle phases.

A complete management guide is available in White Paper #195, “Fundamentals of Managing the Data Center Life Cycle for Owners.”
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