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Data Center Design Philosophy

By Demetrios Gianniris | Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

As the cost of providing energy increases, analysts predict that energy costs for IT today are but a fraction of what future costs will be at current growth rates. In fact, current trends indicate that server operating costs have the potential to equal their capital costs within three to five years. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), data center energy consumption doubled between the years 2000 and 2005 and showed continued growth throughout the recession and into 2010. Fortunately, there is a solution.

To improve overall data center operational efficiencies and reduce operational expenditures, data center design innovation is becoming increasingly important. In his book Data Center Design and Methodology, Rob Snevely writes that the foundation of data center design philosophy contains five core values:

  • Simplicity

  • Flexibility

  • Scalability

  • Modularity

  • Sanity

The efficiency of a data center relies on the efficiency of its design, and data center design philosophy is the application of structure to the functional requirements of the data center itself. Let’s explore a few key industry best practices for optimizing the energy efficiency of the data center through design in three important fields: HVAC infrastructure, electrical infrastructure and lighting.

HVAC Infrastructure

Needless to say, maintaining proper data center temperature conditions is critical to the operation and longevity of the IT equipment it houses. Optimal data center ambient temperature should range between 68°F and 75°F.


The efficiency and effectiveness of a data center HVAC is heavily influenced by the path, temperature and amount of cooling air delivered to the IT equipment. The key to an efficient airflow design is to eliminate mixing and recirculation of hot equipment exhaust air. This can be accomplished by:

  • optimizing the location of the HVAC units;

  • specifying a “Hot Aisle/Cold Aisle” design configuration;

  • implementing rigid enclosures;

  • blanking unused rack positions;

  • selecting racks with good internal airflow;

  • supplying air directly to the loads; and

  • positioning supply and returns to minimize mixing and short circuiting.


Relative humidity (RH) is a measurement of the amount of moisture in the air at a given temperature in relation to the maximum amount of moisture the air could hold at that same temperature.

Humidification specifications and systems in data centers facilities have often been found to be excessive or wasteful. In other cases, provisions for humidification are simply poor. In general, too much humidification leads to a build-up of condensation, which results in hardware corrosion and early system component failure. Conversely, too little humidification makes equipment especially susceptible to electro-static discharge.

In a data center, maintaining ambient relative humidity levels between 45% and 55% is recommended for optimal performance and reliability. To maintain efficient humidity levels in a data center facility,

  • design the system to actual equipment requirements;

  • use the widest suitable humidity control band;

  • eliminate over-humidification and/or de-humidification; and

  • centralize humidity control.

Electrical Infrastructure

Protection from power loss is a common characteristic of data center facilities. However, such protection comes at a significant up-front price and also carries a continuous power usage cost that can be reduced through careful design and selection. Methods for reducing electrical consumption include:

  • maximizing unit loading;

  • selecting the most efficient UPS possible;

  • not over-specifying power conditioning requirements;

  • eliminating standby generators;

  • recovering waste heat for local uses; and

  • generating cooling at off-peak intervals for use at peak intervals.


Lighting is often taken for granted in data center designs. Light levels are expressed in the metric unit “lux.” One “foot candle” is approximately 10 lux. A typical US corporate office is lit to an illumination of 30 to 100 foot candles.

As a typical rule of thumb, data centers and computer rooms should be lit to an illumination of between 40 and 50 foot candles. The energy consumption of such illumination levels can be safely reduced via the implementation of occupancy sensors and bi-level lighting.

To learn more about data centers and colocation, be sure to check out these great Hedge IT articles:

Eze Castle Integration offers professionally managed, highly redundant, secure data center facilities that are conveniently located in close proximity to major financial hubs. For more information, read about our Eze Colocation Services, or contact us today.

Demetrios Gianniris is Director of Project & Technology Management (PTM) at Eze Castle Integration. He is responsible for overseeing the daily administration and operations of the Project Management team, including project design development, construction management, professional services and information technology consulting. Follow Demetrios on Twitter at


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