John Collins, Segment Manager, Data Centers, Eaton Corporation (, says:

For many companies, updating an older data center is significantly less costly than constructing an entirely new facility. Most companies hope to get as much as 20 years of dependable service from their data centers. Unfortunately, there are many obstacles to achieving that length of service. In particular, some of the key mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) components that data centers rely on are not designed to last that long.

Modernizing a vintage data center’s mechanical and electrical infrastructure can enhance availability, raise power and cooling capacity, lower operational expenses and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it also yields additional and perhaps less obvious advantages, as well as, a variety of significant planning and operational challenges.

Challenges of upgrading vintage data center infrastructure

Funding the project: Before data center managers can update a vintage computing facility, they must first persuade senior executives to fund and authorize such a project. That means building a detailed and persuasive business model complete with concrete ROI calculations. Without prior experience, however, assembling such facts and figures can be difficult.

Out-of-date documentation: Retrofitting an older data center’s electrical systems haphazardly can result in overloads and other dangerous conditions. To prevent such problems from occurring, facilities managers need access to complete and accurate blueprints of the data center’s existing electrical infrastructure. Unfortunately, however, many companies neglect to keep those documents up to date.

Risk of downtime during construction: Few companies can afford to take a vintage data center offline for months at a time during upgrades. Yet replacing electrical and mechanical systems in a live, production environment without affecting availability can be a demanding task and requires careful planning.

Code compliance: Data center operators must verify that any changes they make to a vintage facility’s electrical systems comply with current arc flash safety requirements. Conducting thorough arc flash studies without jeopardizing critical workloads, however, takes specific engineering knowledge and skills.

Benefits of upgrading a vintage data center’s MEP infrastructure

Improved safety levels: Implementing upgrades to power distribution equipment yields improved arc safety and ease of maintenance, and opportunities to take advantage of remote operating equipment. Upgrading fire detection and suppression systems can remove water from the data center and replace it with alternate technologies.

Enhanced flexibility and functionality: A modernized data center is better equipped to accommodate a wider range of recent technologies, such as cloud computing. It’s also more capable of supporting even newer innovations in the future.

Improved serviceability: Retrofitting a vintage data center’s MEP systems usually improves their redundancy, making it easier for administrators to repair power equipment or perform necessary maintenance tasks without lowering availability.

Greater scalability: Increasing a vintage data center’s power and cooling capacity enables companies to maximize their use of virtualization and blade servers, technologies that increase scalability by freeing up floor space for future expansion.

Enhanced customer perception: Multi-tenant data centers such as colocation or managed hosting sites often use their facilities as a marketing tool to prospective customers. Presenting a modern state-of-the-art appearance in areas such as system design and aesthetics can help organizations differentiate their data center or validate the price of their services

Though upgrading a vintage data center isn’t simple, careful planning and skilled execution can dramatically streamline the process and strengthen return on investment. Above all, organizations contemplating a retrofit of an older data center’s MEP infrastructure should seek assistance from a skilled vendor with deep and relevant experience.