Following data center construction, full and thorough testing under design load conditions should be performed. As independent experts in design, build and optimization, IDCS is the obvious choice to undertake such a critical task. Without thorough testing following completion of the data center build, you cannot be sure that stated deliverables have been met or that the facility is fit for purpose in terms of efficiency, resiliency and redundancy.

Data center commissioning is a meticulous process that is crucial to ensuring the quality and reliability of a new data center. Because commissioning is often announced just before a new data center opens, some may think it is quick and only done once construction has finished. While the final stage of commissioning is conducted after the completion of construction, the reality is the commissioning process can be iterative and starts months before completion. Data Centre Commissioning is a process that involves the inspection, testing and performance verification of operational components such as instruments, equipment, sub-systems and systems to ensure that they are safe, reliable and are performing as required at the set design conditions. Simulation of full systems will determine whether stated levels of resiliency and redundancy are correct.

What exactly is commissioning?

According to the American Society for Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), commissioning is the “quality-oriented process for achieving, evaluating and documenting that the performance of buildings, systems and assemblies meets defined objectives and criteria.” Basically, commissioning leads to greater availability, safety, and efficiency while reducing project and operating costs throughout the life cycle of the data center.

“ Done properly, commissioning improves system performance throughout the life cycle of a data center. Better system performance not only optimizes data center performance, it also decreases operation and maintenance costs and cuts down on energy consumption for smaller utility bills.”

Michael Donato, Data Center Knowledge

Before commissioning can begin, the data center owner’s project team must outline the owner/operator’s requirements in a document referred to as the Owner’s Project Requirements or OPR. The standards set by this document will guide the entire commissioning process. Once the OPR is approved, the commissioning plan can be developed to ensure the standards outlined in the OPR are met by all parties involved in the project.

Commissioning Goals

These critical activities of testing a various points are for the intent of achieving some important milestones

  1. Establish Warranty starting periods
  2. Ensure that equipment is in working order upon arrival
  3. Provides evidence of a functioning system
  4. Gives scientific proof of system capacity Validates design intent (and defines design and implementation limitations)

Stages of Commissioning

There are several stages of commissioning that take place. In some instances, it may be appropriate to bypass some of these steps (depending on how much customization is done, how large the data center build will be).The aim of the multiple layers of commissioning is to ensure a smooth and problem-free final commissioning exercise. The expectation is, with multiple stages and “smaller incremental testing” steps, there is less of a chance that “problems” will be discovered in the final testing stage.

Level 1: Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT) – The first level of equipment testing takes place in the factory. When purchasing mission critical equipment from a supplier, the data center owner/operator should outline the testing protocol in their purchase specifications. This way the manufacturer knows the expectations in advance and performs tests according to the owner/operator’s standards before the equipment is approved and shipped to the site.

Level 2: Site Acceptance Inspection – Once the equipment arrives to the construction site, it must be inspected before it is accepted. In most cases, the equipment does not match the owner/operator’s specifications when it arrives, even after level one testing is performed. The acceptance of equipment is the responsibility of the installing contractor, however, it is a great opportunity to verify that all components have been shipped and any loose items have been inventoried and stored in a secure location.

Level 3: Pre-Functional Testing (PFT) – Pre-functional testing involves the inspection of the installation of all equipment. Both the contractors and commissioning agent will verify that all equipment is installed properly, and that installation meets compliance requirements and owner/operator standards. Equipment is also started for the first time to check functionality. During these start-up tests, commissioning agents ensure ducts are airtight, they check for leaks, and they check pressure gauges, valves, fans and various other components. Of course, if errors in installation are found, they must be addressed and fixed to meet standards, and PFT must be performed all over again for that piece of equipment.

Level 4: Functional Performance Testing (FPT) – Although all the equipment has already been started and reviewed, functional performance testing is necessary to put every piece of equipment through a full cycle to test performance in all settings. According to an article in the ASHRAE Journal, “Each control loop of every system is checked to make sure its control sequence actually does what it is supposed to do.” It is during this phase that setpoint adjustments are made as necessary and equipment is properly tuned. Systems are tested and adjusted to run according to owner/operator standards.

Level 5: Integrated Systems Testing (IST) – Level five commissioning, also known as IST, is the moment of truth. It is the final reliability test before opening a data center. This is what we refer to as “pulling the plug”. Basically, the electrical power is suddenly disconnected while all systems are running, just as if an outage had occurred. The data center’s backup power systems (UPS and generators) should kick in, and there should be a seamless transition to backup power with no interruptions to cooling. Once a data center passes this test, it is ready to serve customers with mission critical needs.

IDCS manages a process where each critical system is vigorously tested under load to ensure that it’s sustainable and reliable. We follow this process with an integrated testing procedure, again under load, which means that all critical systems are tested simultaneously to drive out any possible faults or errors. To ensure total accountability for this process, IDCS mandates that owners, manufacturers, contractors, engineers and others involved in the process be present during commissioning and testing. IDCS also documents this process with the appropriate sign-off procedures to assure that the IT stakeholders that the original project design and operational objectives have been attained or surpassed.