A blank sheet for a black box

Whatever the sector or company size, datacentres make it possible to set up a physical barrier thereby helping to reduce operational risks such as production downtimes, data theft, industrial and tax espionage. As a building, the datacentre is subject to particular constraints related to the very nature of data housing. Starting from scratch with a blank sheet is very often the only means of achieving this.

While we cannot avoid the standards imposed by building laws and regulations, it is rather the functional considerations of the datacentre which dictate both its location and nearly all of the technical decisions. The architectural design of the building will naturally result from these decisions, leaving  very little “wriggle room” for “artistic” consideration. For this very reason, the transformation of existing buildings or parts of buildings into datacentres is at best inefficient and at worst impossible given certain required criteria. To start from scratch thus offers significant advantages.

First of all, the possibility of choosing the location according to the market segments concerned, the absence of natural and industrial risks, a guaranteed and sufficient electricity supply or the necessary telecommunications network, is decisive. Moreover, the prospect of exercising owner control over the selected plot and future building is of paramount importance, as they can be devoted exclusively to the activity of data housing.

In addition, it becomes possible to design and build the datacentre according to all of the requirements, whether they concern the client-housing services (modularity of space, power available per m2), the technical installations or the future datacentre operations. The technical options, whether they relate to physical safety (access, fire and water), the degree of resilience (electrical and cooling components) or energy efficiency (insulation, free cooling, containments), dominate the architectural characteristics of the site, i.e. parasismics, statics, positioning and segregation of the premises, service shafts, fuel storage, etc.  It should be noted that the technical installations account for the bulk of the financial outlay, taking up as a large – if not a larger – share of the investment than the pure “building” itself.

A datacentre is thus a particular site subject to specific constraints. These are in keeping with the importance of the protected housing of significant data and with current energy supply and efficiency challenges. Experience shows that the problems posed by an existing building located in a frequently inadequate zone prevents the implementation of optimum technical solutions. To start from scratch is therefore the only definitive way of durably responding to the demands of a market whose requirements grow both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Claude Gentile, BrainServe Ltd (Switzerland)