Info-Tech sees an increase in the number of enterprises planning data center expansions and refreshes involving server rooms of between 3,000 and 5,000 square feet. With average build out costs estimated between $600 and $900 per square foot, each project can often represent a million dollar initial investment.

Estimating data center power, cooling, and UPS requirements for the present and future is an important first step in data center planning and budgeting. To ensure that estimates are realistic, IT should seek professional expertise from specialized architects and engineers in each area for confirmation.

Building a Data Center is Not a DIY Project

The specialized expertise required to successfully plan, design, and execute data center facility construction involves several technical fields. However, organizations commonly approach the design and planning with resources whose expertise lie in designing office spaces – and have subsequently run into significant problems with final inspections and/or expensive change orders for the server room. Data center facilities face specific engineering and architecture issues surrounding power, cooling, fire-suppression, and disaster-resistance that are very expensive to retrofit into a nearly-completed project.


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Data center facilities are particularly costly because they require a level of detail beyond normal commercial construction requirements. For example, building code requirements alone can represent a 20% cost increase for a 110V outlet in a data center or server room versus a standard 110V outlet installed in a commercial office setting.

The common participants in successful data center facility design projects are:



Building Architects

Familiar with local building codes (i.e. seismic engineering requirements).

Structural Engineers

Ensure that floor and roof structure will support the weight of equipment and cooling towers.

Mechanical Engineers

Responsible for the design, installation, and testing of all HVAC equipment required to efficiently cool the facility.

Electrical Engineers

Account for local building codes and facility requirements; designs, installs, and test all electrical distribution and standby power systems such as generators and UPS.

Fire Protection Engineers

Implement fire detection and gaseous fire suppression systems, water-based sprinklers, and emergency shut-offs as guided by fire codes, safety regulations, and insurance carrier requirements.

Network Engineers

Designs, implements, and tests all structured cabling and cable terminations into the room.

Facilities Manager/Building Owner

Performs oversight, ongoing maintenance, and vendor management for all mechanical devices supporting the room including air handlers, power distribution, standby generators, and fire protection.


The expertise required for the successful implementation of any data center facility expansion or refresh is vast and unlikely to be found in-house. IT leaders embarking on this type of project must consider the following:

  1. Estimate data center requirements. Begin by estimating power, cooling, and standby power requirements for the present and future data center. Estimations will help in the development of a high level plan and budget. These estimations should reflect:
    • Power requirements. Include existing and future critical loads for servers, storage, and other equipment (switches, computers, routers) located in the data center, as well as power to support cooling and lighting.
    • Cooling requirements. Include current and future cooling needs for servers, storage, and other equipment located in the data center as well as standby power, power distribution units, people, and lighting.
    • Standby power requirements. Include current and future requirements for servers, storage, cooling, emergency lighting, and other equipment located in the data center.
  2. Define expectations and scope. The planning for any data center facility project must begin with the estimated business requirements and considerations. A well defined project scope will ensure the data center will meet the enterprise needs and budget. Some key questions for the enterprise include:
    • What is the primary purpose of the facility? Is the facility being designed to house the critical business systems for the enterprise? Or, will the facility be acting as a failover site?
    • Is it necessary to build a new facility? Or, can the enterprise adopt a co-location or hosted strategy to avoid capital expenditures?
    • Based on enterprise service expectations, how much redundancy is necessary? How much does downtime based on facility availability cost the enterprise versus initial costs required to provision redundant systems?
    • What are known business and technology strategies that will likely change the equipment and infrastructure footprint from the current base-line? Will the space requirements for data center facility be expanding or contracting based on future business needs?
  3. Consider the timeline. Implementing a data center facility is a complex and expensive endeavor and realistic timelines are critical to success. Critical time constraints that must be determined are:
    • What is the expected lifespan of the facility? How long should the facility be able to support the business without requiring significant expansion or renovation? A ten-year requirement will imply different design requirements than a facility requirement of five years or less.
    • By what date is the new facility needed? Long lead-times can be expected for approvals, inspections and nearly all of the components such as HVAC, stand-by power, and raised flooring. Info-Tech clients report taking as long as 18 months to complete the planning and design stages before work begins. If the enterprise is facing a more immediate deadline, a temporary co-location or hosting strategy should be adopted to ensure critical decisions are not rushed and to contain project costs.
  4. Seek external expertise early. The build and design phase of a data center facility requires significant knowledge that is not likely to be possessed by an enterprise's in-house staff. Bring in specialized expertise early to provide insight on best practices, detailed planning, and project oversight.

Next: What's The Bottom Line?

IT shops building or refreshing the data center should seek external expertise or face incurring additional costs due to miscalculated power, cooling, and UPS requirements. Ensure project costs do not spiral out of control by engaging specialized engineering and architectural expertise in initial requirements and budget estimations to ensure all factors have been considered.

© 1998-2010 Info-Tech Research Group. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission

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