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Data Center Design Best Practices: How to Create a Data Center

Here's what to look for in an existing data center as well as considerations for undertaking a new construction or remodel.

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Housing the most mission critical network equipment and systems, data centers specialize in collecting, processing, storing and sharing data. Modern data centers optimize the equipment powering the information systems, delivering greater performance, faster speeds and smoother operations. When deciding how to create a data center — either a new facility or rebuilding an existing one — you must pay close attention to the needs and limitations of your organization's infrastructure. In this post, we’ll walk you through data center design best practices so you can get the best results.

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Essential Data Center Components

Modern data centers rely on powerful technologies to manage an organization's data. Key data center components include:

Data centers typically encompass a full building, part of a building, or for large corporations, multiple buildings where computer systems and data reside alongside other necessary equipment. Different tiers and standards exist, from a basic server room to a truly robust environment with fully redundant systems that can operate uninterrupted for an indefinite time despite power outages. 

How to Create a Data Center

An effective data center infrastructure should support the current organizational workload as well as the ever-changing and growing needs of your business. A long-term vision helps to ensure your data center can handle the evolution of your business, and periodic upgrades can also support this goal.

When considering how to create a data center, it's useful to reach out to an authority on the subject. A highly skilled tech firm can offer precise guidance in designing your data center build out to satisfy all your company's needs and specifications.

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Data Center

New Design vs. Remodeling

Designing a data center depends more specifically on whether you are building a new data center or upgrading and maximizing an existing data center. First determine whether you are planning to upgrade your existing data center or organize a new data center build out. Then, follow the pointers below to help you get the most out of your organization's data and network infrastructures.

Upgrading an Existing Data Center

For even the most robust data centers, the time may come when an upgrade can change the trajectory of the company's future. You can smoothly shift the focus from day-to-day operations to future-focused innovations with an upgraded data center.

The key elements to build into your upgraded data center include:

  • Reliably high uptime and data availability
  • Flexible modular data center components
  • Climate controls for direct and indirect cooling
  • Backup power options to help guarantee uptime during power failures
  • Convenient, low-voltage cable routing
  • Efficient air flow for hot and cold air streams
  • Layered security protocols to keep data systems safe and secure

It's important to ensure all backup systems are in place both onsite and offsite. Data integrity and preservation remain vital as the data center's primary objective.

Designing a New Data Center

New data centers require regular backups, reliable power supplies, communication paths for data connections, security measures and environmental controls. A new data center opens the door to smoother operations and more effective data management. Here are some top-level suggestions:

  • Choose modular data center build outs. The modular style offers flexibility, especially for future upgrades and adjustments. Scalable modules offer versatility and streamlined network operations.
  • Share resources when possible. A converged infrastructure takes some of the strain off individual components while making the system more energy-efficient and economical.
  • Choose high-powered software. Even if your company's hardware is of the lower end, flexible software can drive the business powerfully forward.
  • Find opportunities to integrate. Rather than reinvent the wheel, look for places where you can share resources and processes. 
  • Consider the cloud. A variety of cloud-based software can deliver scalable, powerful solutions to your network infrastructure. Work with your IT architect to design a data system that makes sense for your organization.
  • Keep a data continuity plan in place. In the event of a disaster or major data loss, you'll want to ensure your information and systems are protected. Implement a disaster recovery plan that aligns with your other redundancy and backup processes.
Data Center

Data Center Design Best Practices

To help improve your infrastructure, explore these data center design best practices. 

Power & Performance

Utility costs are a major concern for most data centers. And, of course, maximizing uptime and limiting downtime due to issues like power failure is essential as well. Keep the following in mind when designing your power systems:

  • Servers. Your servers are a significant power draw. In general, the more powerful your servers, the more power will be required to keep them running.
  • Cooling. Your cooling systems are another major power draw. We’ll touch more on cooling below, but for now, know that high density racking can increase the need for cooling—which means more power. It’s important to balance your efficient use of space while considering the impact that your infrastructure can have on things like cooling and power consumption.
  • Emergency Power. Don’t let a power failure result in downtime. Be sure to install back up power solutions to keep your systems running.
  • Sustainability. Where possible, consider incorporating green energy sources into your infrastructure. Solar power can be feasible in some instances, and depending on your climate, allowing cool outdoor air into the environment may help to reduce power draw from cooling systems as well.
  • Power Usage Efficiency. Monitor your power usage and segment by IT tasks (i.e. server power) and non-IT tasks (i.e. lighting, cooling, etc.). If your power needs are consistent for IT essential tasks, look for opportunities to reduce power consumption from non-IT tasks.

Physical Space & Organization

When planning your data center, it’s important to ensure your facility has space available for future upgrades. In an effort to cut costs, data center planners may try to limit facility space to the organization’s current needs—but that can be a costly mistake in the long run. As your needs grow over time, having the space available to add equipment is essential.

When planning out your facility, there are some steps you can take to get the most efficient use out of your space:

  • Floorspace. Overestimate your floorspace needs. Pad extra space in your plans for future growth. While this may not be possible with an upgrade to an existing data center, it is absolutely essential when planning a new data center. Plan ahead now, save later.
  • Cabinets & Racks. Consider investing in cabinets and racks to house and stack equipment. You may even choose to include empty racks in your space so they will be ready when the need arises.
  • Cable Selection. Every little detail counts. When selecting your cables, choose those with the smallest diameters that can still provide the functionality you need.
  • Above & Below. Wiring can be run below the floor or overhead in a rafter system to keep pathways clear while reducing cable clutter.

Cooling Systems

Data centers house expensive equipment. Without a proper cooling system in place, that equipment can overheat and fail—requiring expensive repairs and resulting in potential data loss. In addition to overheating issues, poorly designed cooling systems can draw heavy power, increasing utility costs and leading to potential blackouts. To prevent these issues, plans for cooling and airflow are crucial components of any data center design.

  • Cooling Equipment. While traditional A/C units can be effective, they draw significant power and can lead to increased utility costs. Modern water cooling systems may provide greater energy efficiency.
  • Airflow Design. Planning your infrastructure for optimal airflow can help to reduce utility costs while ensuring your equipment is properly cooled. Consider placing equipment that is most prone to overheating closer to air ducts. Make effective use of paneling and barriers to direct airflow to sensitive equipment as well.


Security should always be a top priority. When planning your data center, it’s important to consider the physical security of your facility, the security of your networks, and the integrity of your data:

  • Physical Security. Some steps you can take to improve the physical security of your facility include: installing surveillance cameras, limiting entrances and exits, staffing security guards, restricting access to sensitive areas, and more.
  • Network Security. Keep your networks protected with the installation of firewalls, IDSs, and ACLs.
  • Data Encryption & Backup. Protecting sensitive data is paramount. Ensure that all data is encrypted where appropriate, require usernames and passwords, and implement regular backups to limit data loss.

Design Your Data Center with CDW

While understanding data center design best practices can help, planning is an extensive process. Working with an expert can help ensure all of your needs are met while optimizing for power efficiency, security, uptime, and more.

CDW offers expert data center services, from assessment and design to deployment and managed services. Consult with our data center and network infrastructure specialists to ensure your build out meets your organizational needs.