Designing mission critical facilities that accommodate current and future needs and offering innovative solutions that up the ante within the sector
Submitted by Tetra Tech
Craig is the Sydney-based market sector lead for mission-critical services at Norman Disney & Young, A Tetra Tech Company (NDY), part of the Tetra Tech High Performance Buildings Group. He supports the business with his technical expertise in high-voltage networks, and fault-tolerant and renewable energy systems and microgrids.
Craig came to our team in 2012 from a networks utility business where he gathered a broad range of design and management experience in the power industry. He has held several leadership roles in our Australia-based High Performance Buildings team, including Perth electrical section manager and national power engineering manager.
Since childhood, Craig has been exploring his passion for understanding how things work. Building on an avid interest in computers and technology, he holds a Bachelor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (Honors) alongside a Bachelor of Science from the University of Western Australia. Craig now combines both loves via a focus on data centers, which require the highest level of detail from concept to delivery. He understands that clients come to Tetra Tech for the expertise, capabilities, and staff experience in the sector.
Craig has been designing data center facilities for more than a decade, working on dozens of sites ranging from new builds to complex upgrades and voltage conversions on live data centers, including defense facilities.
What are some of the major considerations and complexities associated with data center projects today?
Modern-day data centers or mission-critical facilities have seen a growth in energy density due to growing artificial intelligence capabilities. We’re designing projects with a high power density, which requires rethinking power distribution and pushes the limits of air-cooled solutions. In larger facilities, a major focus is on modularization of designs that allow for scale-out as demand grows without putting information technology (IT) loads at risk during these expansions. With this growth in scale, getting the site services infrastructure right is absolutely critical to achieving a successful outcome.
What we’re seeing in the defense sector is even bigger densities of power usage, as the military has far greater requirements in order to keep up with operational needs. A normal project might have elements of storage and some processing, but a defense project requires far more processing-intensive tasks, which chew up more power. Tetra Tech’s designs work to not only accommodate these needs but offer solutions that innovate and up the ante within the sector.
On recent data center projects, what innovations have excited you the most?
There are always fresh ideas on new data center projects. As an electrical engineer, the use of Isolated Parallel Bus (IP-Bus) connectivity technology to achieve Tier IV fault tolerance with minimal duplication in uninterrupted power supply (UPS) and generator plant systems is exciting as it enables us to improve both asset utilization and energy efficiency outcomes. As space is often limited, the shift to lithium ion or lithium polymer batteries for UPS systems has been a game changer, drastically reducing the spatial footprint and structural requirements for these systems.
What role does sustainability play in current data center design?
Data center usage is estimated to make up approximately 4 percent of Australian energy consumption, so it is not surprising that, with increasing power density within data centers and rising energy costs, energy costs are now the single biggest operating cost faced by mission-critical providers. As a result, over the past decade, plant solutions have been designed to operate more efficiently throughout the load range. Our recent data center designs have included the use of air-side free cooling, water-side economizers combined with higher chilled water supply temperatures, and high-efficiency UPS technologies to offer solutions with a greater focus on sustainability.
NABERS for data centers is gaining traction in Australia. NABERS energy ratings for data centers is a set of performance metrics tools used in Australia to evaluate the energy efficiency and environmental impact of networked computer facilities. Tetra Tech is proud to have worked with a major provider, NEXTDC, to achieve the first 5 Star NABERS energy ratings in Australia on two of its facilities. By comparison, LEED for Data Centers has not taken off within the Asia-Pacific region, with only three facilities certified to date.
How do clients wisely invest in critical infrastructure like data centers when the technology we use is evolving so quickly?
While IT technology is continually changing, the rate of change for the infrastructure is much slower and far more incremental. Good data center design allows for the staged progression of infrastructure rollout to allow new electrical and thermal capacity to be brought online without disruption to the data center environment. This allows investment in the plant to be deferred until later in the data center lifecycle and reduces both maintenance overheads and capital expenditure on otherwise stranded assets, allowing the operator to procure the most efficient plant possible.
What changes have you seen in mission-critical and data center operations, and what innovations are on the horizon?
Among the most obvious changes, the scale of facilities has increased exponentially, from 10-20 megawatt (MW) to 100MW. Hyperscalers—data center providers such as Microsoft and Google that operate a new generation of large facilities in the range of 80MW to 150MW—are also creating change by pushing the thermal envelope wider in pursuit of energy savings. On the horizon are a range of innovations, including a growth in edge computing driven by latency requirements (edge computing brings computation and data storage closer to the location where it is needed to improve response times – or reduce latency – and save bandwidth). The new 5G wireless technology for cellular networks will offer faster service than its 4G predecessor, and further growth is also occurring in power density, direct liquid cooling, and analytics-driven control systems where the infrastructure responds more efficiently to suit the IT load. There is a lot coming our way, and we are ready for it.
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