End of Life Planning in Data Centers

End of Life Planning in Data Centers

End of Life Planning in Data Centers 1625 2036 Enabled Energy

How to deal with the inevitable…

Data centers are a brutal environment for mechanical and electrical equipment. The core data infrastructure of switches, servers, cabinets, and communications wiring requires a supporting cast of mechanical, electrical, fire alarm, and emergency back-up technology to keep it all running. As with everything in nature and technology, this supporting equipment has a service life…which also means that it will eventually die.

Given the existential nature of their task, planning for the eventual retirement or end of life (EOL) of a data center’s mechanical and electrical equipment is a required exercise for the data center operator. It may be a distant thought in the heady days of data center planning or acquisition, but the time comes remarkably quickly in a 24/7/365 data center. Unlike most commercial buildings, critical electrical and cooling equipment needs to be refreshed before the invariable high maintenance end of the service term or – worst of all – catastrophic failure.

From an economic and even emotional perspective, replacing equipment that is operating as designed seems frivolous or somehow cruel. Nevertheless, waiting too long, particularly for items that fail suddenly, will lead to far greater expense. Most data center operators understand this, but initiating an EOL planning process can be daunting, particularly for organizations with multiple locations or addresses.

The question for an owner, particularly those with sites of varying designs and providence – is how and when to replace equipment. More specifically, how does an owner determine what equipment is at or near its EOL and needs replacement? How can it be tracked across multiple sites or even multiple continents? What implications does this have in relation to re-investment, divestment, or re-building of a location or multiple locations?

And, perhaps most importantly, how does an operator prioritize limited capital funds in a dynamic and changing environment? This economic challenge leads to more nuanced and complex questions, such as:

  • Which items have the highest priority in terms of remaining service life?
  • Conversely, what equipment can wait until next year, or maybe even five years from now?
  • How bad is the pain if the equipment fails?  Is it an inconvenience, a major expense, or an outage?
  • Can I repair or refresh some items in my inventory to extend life without a full replacement?
  • What economic gains do I receive from new equipment in terms of efficiency, maintainability, or reliability that might help prioritize some investments over others?
  • And – which items are so costly or risky that they need to be upgraded in an urgent fashion, regardless of other investment opportunities?

From a management or operational perspective, the more pragmatic and pressing questions are – when do I need to start planning for EOL, and how?

End of life planning and analysis

Data centers built as recently as 2013 need to start planning and preparing for equipment replacement, as some parts of the infrastructure are likely already near their EOL. Making a concerted investment in evaluating the EOL liabilities and planning for the inevitable is a critical and required task of every long-term data center owner.

The overall process requires diligence and analysis, as well as some attention from both site-level personnel as well as senior management. As with most analysis tasks, EOL planning lends itself to a spreadsheet or software-based analytics model to allow for scenarios and dynamic changes to be effectively evaluated.

EOL planning requires a deliberate process:

Step 1

Inventory major equipment

The first step is to understand and index the major equipment in the facility. Equipment can and should be grouped into functional systems, as pumps and relays are a sub-set of larger HVAC or UPS systems. Data platforms are readily available within DCIM programs or maintenance management software; but it can be a ‘home grown’ database or even a spreadsheet as well. The most important point is to ensure the list is accurate and captures all major equipment.

Step 2

Determine the useful life for each item

A great starting point is the ASHRAE Service Life and Maintenance Cost Database1. Manufacturers, AI engines (e.g. Chat GPT), Google, and contractors can also be partners in this search, as can the maintenance staff.

Step 3

Determine rough equipment replacement costs

Again, service and manufacturing partners are good resources to assist in this task. In larger organizations, using higher-level ‘rules of thumb’ for costs is usually most effective to calibrate equipment replacement values. For example, cost per ton for HVAC or cost per KW for UPS systems. The planning task does not typically require precision so much as a ‘rough order of magnitude’ to guide strategic invest vs. divest decisions or prioritization of capital for more detailed analysis later.

Step 4

Build decision criteria or weighting factors

This step will guide prioritization decisions in addition to age / service life. Criteria are going to be based on the organizational needs and weighted in terms of relative importance.

The tool can be as simple as sorting a spreadsheet by age vs. useful life; or as complex as a multi-indexed decision criteria and scenario management tool to build a 10-year replacement roadmap. That’s up to the owner and operator, as a portfolio of 100 data centers across continents presents a different planning challenge versus a single location corporate data center located at an office.

Sample criteria includes:

Examples of decision criteria for end of life equipment in a data center facility

The results

As with most planning endeavors, the journey and discipline required to complete the EOL plan is as important as the result. Remember that any outcome of this planning task is superior to ad-hoc analysis or ignoring EOL liabilities until equipment fails. It requires time and analysis to critically evaluate the age and relative importance of equipment, quantify the replacement costs, and – perhaps most difficult – evaluate the internal criteria and relative importance of data center operations to the organization. In the end, it allows the data center owner to face facts that the reality of this investment may be substantial.

The result – in one form or another – is a plan or roadmap to addressing your aging equipment when the time comes. It may be an investment plan or prioritization, or it may lead to more strategic decisions to rebuild or relocate.

How EE can help

Enabled Energy has assisted data center owners in developing, implementing, and optimizing EOL planning models across large and small enterprises. We have complex, pre-developed models that can be customized on criteria and site data – regardless of data platform. EE also has assisted large owners in site inventory data collection and inventory management, including sending technicians to audit data centers across North America.

EE recognizes that every data center owner has their unique challenges, so we work with our clients to leverage our experience and extensive tool set to customize any EOL analysis and plan to drive the required business results.

info@enabledenergy.com | 303-761-9890

1 http://weblegacy.ashrae.org/publicdatabase/

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