Data center commissioning

Data Center Commissioning

To many outsiders, Data Centers are viewed with scrutiny due to it being seen as a “black” box. What this means, is that the vast majority view Data centers in terms of input and output with little to no understanding of the inner workings. However, this perspective is not shared by the few lucky enough to see behind the curtains. To them, data centers are intricate yet beautifully designed facilities which manage the data of the world, ever eager to be put to the test.

So how does one go about testing a data center? Simply enough, Commissioning! Testing the design of the system and determining the vulnerabilities that are to be weeded out to ensure project success. This, in short, allows for a smooth transition between the site’s development phase and daily operation. Commissioning should not only be executed during the construction phase of the data center but should be a continuous process throughout its lifetime.

Benefits of worthwhile commissioning:

According to the Uptime Institute (2015), thorough commissioning has numerous benefits, some of which includes:

  • Verifies that equipment and systems operate according to the designer’s specification.
  • Provides a paradigm on the expected performance of the facility throughout its lifetime.
  • Establishes the limit at which a data center can perform, thus avoiding system overload.
  • Grants the best opportunity for Operations to become familiar with how systems operate and test and verify operational procedures without risking critical IT loads.

Pre-design Phase

Step 1: Choosing the right “team”, budgeting and scheduling.
One word: Research! Take time to do the proper research to ensure you build a competent team. Once you have found the right general contractor, design team, commissioning agent and vendors, the likelihood of success has already increased exponentially. The budget should cover all items and personnel needed to support the commissioning. Scheduling should be timely and covers all commissioning activities to avoid any delays. Allow room for flexibility.

Design and Pre-construction Phase

Step 2: Design Reviews
This is the phase where all plans, checklists, and reports are reviewed by your team. Ensure that the commissioning agent is involved in the design reviews. This should be done at the initial stages. This facilitates effective communication, as the commissioning agent gains an understanding of how the system works and your intention for the design of the system. The commissioning agent may then offer beneficial insights.

Step 3: Factory Witness Testing
This is used to verify operation and capacity for the components that are to be installed within the data center. These components include engine-generator sets, UPS systems, chillers, air-co, and switchgear. Prior to the execution of the Factory Witness Testing (FWT), it is imperative that the team reviews the vendor FWT script. A plan for who will be attending each FWT is important to have beforehand, and documentation of the FWT reports to identify deficiencies should be done properly.

Construction Phase

Step 4: Evaluate onsite equipment
Check all pieces of equipment that arrive on site, is it the correct quantity? Are there any scratches or dents? Any deficiencies? Best to know as soon as possible! Keep track of all reported deficiencies and deal with them accordingly. Do not allow any deficiency to slip through the cracks as that is detrimental to successful commissioning.

Step 5: Connecting equipment
Start connecting the equipment. Check whether the valves and switches are functioning. Of course, it is best the check the connection of equipment together with the supplier, so no mistakes can occur upon setting-up the equipment.

Step 7: Organize your Operation/Staff
The staff operating within the data center must understand the “ins” and “outs” of their facility. There’s no better way to do this than during the Integrated and Functional System Testing. This is where they will get the opportunity to test the system’s capacity (i.e. controls schemes, automatic and/or manual transfers, etc.).

Commissioning Phase

Step 8: Functional Commissioning
The Functional Commissioning scripts should be completed and reviewed by the team. Get feedback from the team before “challenging” the system. Review progress and activities in a daily meeting. One should encourage operations staff to be creative. Again, keep track of all deficiencies.

Step 9: Integrated Systems Testing (IST)
This is where you determine whether your machine is properly calibrated or needs tweaking. Validate all information that is received from the systems, like values, alarms, and notifications. Involve the operations team to ensure that they learn how the system operates and how to manoeuvre it.

Step 10: Documentation
Lastly, ensure all documentation is provided upon completion. Operators can effectively run the data center once all documents, namely the final commissioning and as-built documentation, are accounted for.


By the looks of it, it is safe to say that the long-term success of any data center can be partially (if not entirely) attributed to a well-thought-out and executed commissioning program. It allows for the continuous removal of vulnerabilities in the process, thereby leading to continuous improvement. In addition to that, operators are more likely to make use of the facilities full potential due to having a clear understanding of the facilities’ infrastructure.

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