The nuances of data center commissioning

Commissioning (Cx) a data center entails a distinctly different thought process and approach from that required for other building types. Offices, schools and data centers alike benefit from the commissioning process; however, the nature of the critical systems supported by data centers drives the need for a more comprehensive commissioning effort.

Data centers are generally designed to a “Tier” level (as defined by the Uptime Institute) or similar criteria that establish the reliability and fault-tolerant attributes required in the building’s mechanical and electrical systems. To that end, the level of commissioning provided should be commensurate with the required data center Tier level.

The process of commissioning is generally defined by five levels of effort: Cx planning, factory testing, pre-functional tests, functional performance testing (FPT) and an integrated systems test (IST). It is on these last two levels, the FPT and IST, in which the nuances of commissioning data centers are most evident. Functional performance testing provides validation of equipment (component) performance, whereas the integrated systems test validates dynamically complex systems performance. The testing procedures (a.k.a. scripts) for each level must be uniquely designed and technologically current with the equipment being tested. Outdated tests can be confusing, could overlook key component functionality and may not test critical system parameters.

Generally, commissioning for offices, schools and data centers commonly verify that installed equipment and systems meet a project’s design intent. However, the focus of data center commissioning differs because it encompasses normal, emergency and maintenance mode testing in concert with component and system failure testing. The FPT and IST for data centers therefore require more sophisticated procedures that can identify system failure points. To mitigate system exposure to the potential domino effect that failure can induce, the commissioning authority (CxA) must construct IST test procedures with the capacity to expose failures that can cause system “crash.” IST is the cumulative procedure that validates the availability and reliability of the data center infrastructure.

Proper data center commissioning provides a holistic approach to testing and verification of the supporting mechanical and electrical infrastructures. However, it is the interaction between dynamically complex systems critical to the successful operation of a data center that requires the commissioning process to be designed with a higher level of care and attention.

For additional information regarding data center commissioning, please contact Danny Haughn at or Robert Knoedler at

Posted on March 14, 2014