Business Continuity Planning: Evaluating Data Center Candidates

In his book Business Continuity Planning for Data Centers and Systems: A Strategic Implementation Guide, Ronald H. Bowman provides a useful framework for methodically evaluating and selecting a data center location from a group of candidates:

Information technology (IT) governance helps ensure that IT supports business goals, optimizes business investment in IT, and appropriately manages IT-related risks and opportunities. These ISP controls with ISP and OSP infrastructure improvements increase survivability of data and human life under extraordinary circumstances.

The solution we employ is a weighted matrix [see example]. This matrix provides detailed criteria with an objective level of interest. The categories are all encompassing and extensive, and have been scored and weighted. The scores "favorable to unacceptable" and the weighting emphasize the importance of the category according to the steering committee. For instance, an active flood zone rating would be more significant than the proximity of public transportation, or two diverse feeds of power may be weighted more than redundant source of potable water. (However, if you do not have cooling, you do not have power.)

The most logical way to navigate through the often-protracted process of data center site selection or business continuity planning is to inspect the candidate properties, take images of them, interview the relevant utilities, and visit the building department and subcode officials to document zoning and permitting issues regarding candidate properties. Quite often local subcode officials can and will supersede the building owners’ contractors association or building owners' management association guidelines based on recent or relevant experience; or worse, just by making an arbitrary call. These folks are very important to the process. They are generally very intelligent and caring. Sometimes they are misunderstood because users often start the relationship under the pressure of time, zoning, setbacks, and so forth, which require reviews and public notices. Subcode officials generally want and need to enforce law and precedent. Early and candid visits to the building department are strongly suggested to populate as much of the weighted matrix in [the example] to weigh properly. Building department officials are problem solvers, but they are human and have feelings and self-esteem issues as well. How you articulate what you are proposing is crucial. Humility, professionalism, and documentation are the keys to this part of the process.

Next we turn to some scoring criteria on a short list of candidate properties to anticipate entitlement, zoning, and construction issues that have and will continue to impact schedule and budget. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen good teams go down the wrong path for the seemingly right reasons due to poor or slow intelligence regarding some of these criteria. Once they pass a certain point in the process, changing direction can be too painful or embarrassing. These are career-killer decisions.

Although we are living in a digital age that provides good and useful information, there are still parts of the United States that are mired in the paper world, and some legacy municipal or vendor personnel may be digital natives or digital immigrants. Speed and accuracy of good intelligence requires the measure-twice-and-cut-once mentality. Intelligence available only on paper is not necessarily poor; likewise, just because intelligence can pop up on your home computer does not make it accurate. Frankly, some of the best intelligence I have gotten from the field is from people who have personal knowledge of acts of God, human intervention, and the permitting or entitlement process. The next list helps the steering committee weigh, score, and level the candidate properties and municipalities against each other. It also starts a specific dialogue among the committee members inspired by war stories from members on what happened to them in various circumstances.

  • As-of right use
  • Demolition protocol
  • Building coverage to land ratio
  • Curb cut protocol
  • Permitting costs
  • Site plan approval duration
  • Site plan approval minimum requirements (for speed)
  • Can construction documents be submitted with the site plan in the interest in time?
  • Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)/Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) submittal requirements (fuel, water and emissions)
  • Land loss to wetlands, rights-of-way (ROWs) easements, other
  • Can DEP/EPA submittals go in with the site plan?
  • Water detention scenarios and local law
  • Sewer to satisfy runoff, cooling tower, and human waste by gravity, pumps, or both
  • Geotect study
  • Hazardous materials local and regional study
  • Local "Superfund" or remediation relevance and history
  • Frequency of local, permitting, and state legislative meetings requirements and possible variances or incentives?
  • Allowable-buildable envelope "as-of right"
  • Duration of variance process
  • Parking required
  • Fire road distance requirement
  • Setback considerations
  • Decibel or sound attenuation requirements at perimeter
  • Fuel storage consideration (above or below)
  • Minimum distance from power transmission lines
  • Process of back and forth with site plan, environmental or construction documents (back and forth or end of the line)
  • Expediter recommend or not (wrong expeditor can add time)
  • Bedrock and aquifer identification
  • Temporary certificate of occupancy or certificate of occupancy process and timing

From Business Continuity Planning for Data Centers and Systems: A Strategic Implementation Guide by Ronald H. Bowman. Copyright 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.