High Tech Case Study: Fitting In

TierPoint. On Point. Keeping Up While Building Colocation Data Center, Seattle, WA

Bringing a new data center online in less than three months called for a coordinated, creative approach.

High Tech Case Study: Fitting In


High Tech Case Study: Fitting In

(Photo: TierPoint.)

By Anne Cosgrove 
From the January/February 2014 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Staying on schedule and budget is a mainstay of virtually all facilities projects, and when TierPoint was expanding its Fisher Plaza data center in Seattle, WA these goals were paramount. As Darin Honodel, director of facilities for the company’s Washington State locations, explains, “One of the most important issues we faced was completing the expansion under an extremely tight deadline. We had just 11 weeks to convert the sixth floor of Fisher Plaza, formerly used as office space, into a raised floor data center with minimum N+1 redundancy across all critical systems.”

Complicating this tight timeline was coming up with solutions for floor loading extremely heavy equipment, providing water delivery and distribution for cooling units, and adhering to strict building codes and regulations. As part of a multi-tenant building, Honodel and the rest of the project team also had to complete the build without interrupting service to TierPoint’s customers during construction. The project began in June 2013, and the facility was up and running in the first week of September.

“We presented an almost impossible challenge. To design and build an expansion of this magnitude, under a deadline as tight as ours, could have been a recipe for disaster,” says Will Riffle, VP and general manager of TierPoint Seattle. “Our vendor partners’ ability to design and engineer custom solutions, and pull together the right external parties to meet every challenge along the way, proved indispensable to launching on time and on budget.”

TierPoint is an IT infrastructure provider of cloud compute, colocation, and managed services designed to help organizations improve business performance and manage risk. With its corporate headquarters in St. Louis, MO, the company operates nearly 130,000 square feet of raised floor data center space across 10 data centers in six markets including Seattle, Baltimore, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Spokane, and Tulsa.

The increasing demand for TierPoint’s services in Seattle was the motivator for the new data center, and this also was the push behind the short timeline. The project involved converting one floor of TierPoint’s Fisher Plaza facility, previously used as office space, into 10,000 square feet of raised floor space and two megawatts of 2N critical load.

The project team collaborated quickly and efficiently to facilitate the installation of overweight data center infrastructure equipment onto ball bearing isolation platforms; develop a solution for water delivery and distribution for cooling units; and retrofit the existing office floor into a raised floor.

Making It Work

Some challenges with the sixth floor space at Fisher Plaza immediately presented themselves. Because Seattle is in an active seismic zone and the Fisher Plaza building is designed to sway during a seismic event as much as 10″ in any given direction, structural engineers determined that loading the floor full of heavy racks and UPS systems would present a problem.

In addition to floor loading, a main concern was how much weight the building’s steel frame could support as it started moving from side to side. The fact that the data center was on the sixth floor compounded the concern because of the leverage placed on the building at the end of the lever (“water tower” effect). This presented a significant issue, because without an effective solution, the new space would not allow TierPoint to accommodate enough racks of customer equipment to make the space financially feasible. Meanwhile, accommodating the heaviest load—the UPS modules—and maximizing the space available to TierPoint customers called for creative solutions.

To accommodate the weight of the UPS equipment, a company was hired to custom fabricate and install ball bearing isolation platforms. These platforms are designed to allow the UPS equipment to sway up to 20″ in any direction during a seismic event.

To address the possibility of the building swaying as much as 10" during a seismic event, the UPS equipment was installed on custom designed ball bearing isolation platforms, which would allow the units to move.
To address the possibility of the building swaying as much as 10″ during a seismic event, the UPS equipment was installed on custom designed ball bearing isolation platforms, which would allow the units to move. (Photo: TierPoint.)

Honodel explains, “The bottom and top plates are separate from each other—the top rides on large ball bearings to allow movement (pictured above). The racks have a special substructure built inside the floor. The system was engineered for our application, and has been approved to meet all seismic requirements. This allows us to easily and quickly bolt racks down without individually bracing each cabinet.”

Meanwhile, the potential for such sway impacted the design of the electrical systems powering the UPS modules, and custom conduits and and power distribution connections were developed.

The sixth floor location of the new data center facility also presented a challenge for delivering chilled water to its computer room air handlers (CRAHs). The existing plumbing was not sufficient to deliver the volume of water needed to support the cooling equipment specified in the design. Additionally, the raised floor of the data center would not allow enough room to distribute water and drain condensate adequately without interfering with airflow.

“When we use outside air economization, the CRAH units force cool air from outside into the raised floor instead of conditioning the hot air that would normally be returned to them,” says Honodel. “We installed relief fans, which are necessary to extract the heat from inside the space, also controlling the static pressure levels of the data center. In an effort to be conscious of power consumption, the City of Seattle requires all new installations to provision economizers.”

Keeping Up While Building

Honodel was involved throughout the entire planning and construction, assisting in the overall design of the space to ensure the layout followed the same ideas proven to work in the TierPoint’s existing data centers.

He explains, “I was the primary interface with TierPoint’s anchor tenant; responsible for ensuring their specific needs were addressed and delivered in the build.” And he helped to ensure construction progress stayed on schedule.”

The base of the isolation platforms were built with separate top and bottom plates, allowing individual racks to be removed or added easily. (Photo: TierPoint.)
The base of the
isolation platforms were built with separate top and bottom plates, allowing individual racks to be removed or added easily. (Photo: TierPoint.)

Recognizing the value of local experts in this scenario, the project managers brought in local subcontractors who were instrumental in navigating City of Seattle requirements and recognizing and overcoming building limitations. A final design was created quickly; completed construction plans were submitted to the city 17 days after TierPoint signed a contract for the work.

Says Honodel, “Our business is built on guaranteeing uptime, connectivity, and security for our customers; we have very little room for error. We cannot cut corners on power and cooling, even if providing those services caused complications during construction of the Fisher Plaza expansion.”

Operations Approach

Once the space was completed, Honodel then worked with the commissioning team to verify installation integrity, and address small issues discovered during testing.

Planning for when the data center would be operational, Honodel was in charge of implementing the facility’s backend services as well as monitoring, access control, and surveillance. To protect the facility from unauthorized people, a dual factor authentication is comprised of badge readers and fingerprint scanners. “Once the badge has been scanned by the prox reader, the request is passed to the fingerprint scanner for verification,” explains Honodel. “If the print read matches the card that is presented, the request is allowed and the door unlocks.”

The new facility has been online since September 2013 with no service interruptions. Multiple preventive maintenance tests have been performed, including full transfers to generator with no customer impact. Says Honodel, “Testing and maintenance is an ongoing process. Once a month, all the generators are run without load. This allows all the internal components to come up to temperature, and circulate all fluids. Once stabilized, all vitals are recorded, and the units are retuned to standby mode.”

Expanding on the company’s approach, he adds, “Semi-annually, the entire generating plant is run with actual building load, simulating a utility outage. While supplying power for the building, the generators are individually failed to test system redundancies. This ensures a minimum of N+1 capacity is available at all times. As our entire business is designed around uptime, we have to be confident in our support systems. The only way to do that is with ongoing and thorough testing.”

Using a modular approach, TierPoint has been able to grow delivered services without impacting existing services. With creative solutions to specific challenges, the project team brought this data center to life on a short timeline.

This article was based on project literature and an interview with Honodel.

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