Designing data centres for the NHS environment

28th October 2016

Secure I.T. Environments’ projects director, Chris Wellfair, offers tips and advice on how to ensure a data centre is designed to grow with the needs of a hospital.

This rise in connected devices and data is having a profound and positive impact in clinical settings and is accessible at the point of need by hospital staff through mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.  Underlying this technology is the data centre, the common denominator amongst all devices, information and applications.

Ignoring the data centre, is leading to a point where many trusts are being forced to make significant, rather than incremental changes to the infrastructure.  So what is the right way to plan data centres?  After all it is not something a trust does every day.  From our experience of delivering nearly 20 data centres across the NHS, we’ve put together some of the most important things to consider when starting a project of this magnitude:

Long-term planning

It is critically important to think about the long term IT needs of the hospital and the loads a data centre will be placed under. In addition, it is important to take into account wider strategic plans that might affect buildings and the layout of the site.  A site that is right today, could easily become a problem if in five years time the roads around the hospital are revised to serve new facilities.

Also think about the space that will be needed for additional equipment in 3-5 and 10 years time, to support the capacity required.  Create a model based on the annual percentage growth that you expect.

Site suitability

Think about the suitability of your site not just in terms of aesthetics or proximity to supplies, but also in terms or risk.  Is putting the data centre near gas storage areas, a railway line or on the corner of a road, exposing the data centre to excessive risk?  Does its position make it a security risk?  Up time is critical to a hospital environment so risks need to be as low as possible.

Specifications

Specifications should cover every aspect of the build, including the energy efficiency that you would like to achieve.  The Power Usage Efficiency (PUE) ratio will have a dramatic impact on the equipment in the data centre and its physical layout.

Security

When designing rooms whether internal or external, make sure they are compliant with BS/EN1047 test standards or depending on the security levels required to the different standards detailed in LPS1175.  

Security reviews should cover access control, CCTV, the protection of standalone back-up generators or other units, and forcible entry.

Team engagement

Getting the planning right needs engagement with many departments in the hospital, not just IT and finance.  We have seen a number of projects where Facilities has been brought into discussions late, and vetoed part of the IT departments plans, often for very good reasons. Facilities have a great deal to offer data centre projects, so make the most of them.

Control

An area often overlooked in specifications is how the data centre environment will be controlled by IT managers and administrators, particularly when they are not in the DC.  This is not simply about controlling the servers themselves, but security, fire suppression and the environment.  For example, to what extent do you want the data centre to control its own environment in realtime based on current loads?

Power and communications infrastructure

The availability of a suitable power supply and fibre backbone are critical to the success of a data centre, and can significantly affect costs, as well as location.  If new cables need to be laid from a switchroom or substation this can be quite disruptive to the build and wider hospital – the DC should always be as close as possible to the supply.

Many projects can’t afford to put in place a standalone back-up generator as part of the initial build.  Whilst this has its own risks, sometimes it is a budget necessity.  If this is the case with your project, ensure that the power transfer switchgear is installed as part of the first phase. This will mean that when the generator is installed it can be connected to the data centre without needing to incur downtime whilst the supply is interrupted.

Funding

If you have planned a data centre carefully there should not be any unexpected costs, that cannot be dealt with by contingency funds.  Data centres are expensive CAPEX projects but this is not the only funding option.  Lease-purchase for the whole or part of the project spread over 1-5 years will allow the hospital to get the facilities it needs without capital expenditure. 

Many books have been written on the intricacies of data centre planning and design, but following the tips above will set you on the right track to delivering a data centre facility that meet the needs of your hospital now and far into the future with only incremental changes.


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