Review of Enterprise Data Center Design and Methodology

Enterprise Data Center Design and Methodology
Rob Snevely
Sun Microsystems Press

Reviewed by Nick Christenson,

May 23, 2002

Despite the recent economic downturn, the overall trend in purchasing of information infrastructure equipment (i.e. computers and related equipment) has been one of rapid growth. Where does all this equipment go? Well, many places, but a lot of it has been placed in new and upgraded data centers around the world. Creating a data center involves a great deal more than just placing a sign on the door. Connectivity, power, cleanliness, cooling, security, and many other factors contribute to providing an environment that will lead to robust computing services. In Enterprise Data Center Design and Methodology, Rob Snevely explores this topic which has heretofore been surprisingly neglected in print.

The first few chapters of this book cover the rationale and goals of having a dedicated data center and the steps involved in preparation for building one. Snevely discusses the trade-offs between size, quality of materials, and capacity, and provides a few suggestions on which corners might be safely cut and what issues should not be compromised. He also provides good suggestions on the topic of site selection, a consideration that is often overlooked. Snevely's advice is generally pretty good, but my primary complaint is that he often doesn't go into as much detail as I would like. For example, he makes reasonable suggestions about how much space to leave between racks of equipment, but it would have been better if he cited common code requirements for this spacing as well, including OSHA regulations and potential requirements under the Americans with Disability Act.

The next few chapters cover the implementation of the space itself, including raised floors, backup power, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning), and network cabling. The author dispenses some sage advice regarding floor tiles and weight loading, among other topics. Again, my biggest complaint is that he doesn't go as far as I'd like. There are many aspects of the topics that he raises that could be explored in much greater depth. In most places, Snevely's descriptions are pretty easy for any professional involved in any aspect of information technology to understand. However, for a brief section in his chapter on power distribution he suddenly goes into great detail on power quality and building a Signal Reference Grid. There is good information in these sections, but I fear that it wasn't set up sufficiently, and it will probably pass over the heads of many readers.

The last few chapters serve as clean-up for the earlier material. The author discusses issues of loading docks, environmental contamination, issues regarding building codes, and emergency systems in data centers. I really like the chapter that describes loading docks and staging areas, and the chapter on environmental contaminants is probably my favorite in the book. As with other aspects of this book, my main complaint is that a lot more detail could have been provided that would be very useful to most readers. For example, Snevely discusses the need to keep a data center clean, mentioning specifically that if the area under the raised floor is pressurized by the air conditioning system, that this area must be kept free of contaminants that might become airborne. However, he doesn't give any guidelines as to how often cleaning should occur, whether it can be done by the regular data center staff, or how this task would be accomplished. Must the A/C be turned off while cleaning is taking place? Can the cleaning occur without shutting down all the equipment in the data center? I expect it is these sorts of questions many people responsible for managing a data center would like to have answered.

This book is much more about the issues involved in setting a data center up than it is about day-to-day operations. As such, it does not serve as a handbook from which one can adequately train personnel what they need to know in order to operate professionally in a data center. However, on the topic of data center design issues, it does a good job of explaining the important issues, although, again, I would have liked to see the author go into more detail. The book is part of the Sun Blueprints series, and, as such, the book uses Sun equipment for its examples. This does not limit the book's usefulness to organizations that do not use Sun equipment. Throughout the book, the author refers to various other documents, like the National Electrical Code. In my opinion, these references are some of the most valuable parts of the book, although several documents I would have liked to have seen cited, such as the IEEE Orange Book on Emergency and Standby Power, were not included.

The information in Enterprise Data Center Design and Methodology is introductory, but pretty good in this role. Someone who is about to design their first data center will probably gain a great deal of useful information from this book. For those who have spent a great deal of time in a raised-floor data center environment, and have been able to learn from people experienced in these facilities, this book will be somewhat useful, although less so. Setting aside the fact that this is the only book on this topic that I'm aware of on the market, I feel that this is a pretty reasonable introduction to the topic, although I'd like to see a more comprehensive book along the same lines some day.


I found Enterprise Data Center Design and Methodology to be a pretty reasonable introduction to the issues involved in designing a data center, and I recommend it to those who are interested in learning about this topic or who are contemplating the construction of their first data center. This is fortunate, because as far as I know, this is the only book on this topic. For those with more experience on this topic or who have other goals in reading this book, it will probably be less valuable, although many people will find at least some information of value in its pages.

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