Ken Seaton, vice president with Chicago-based engineer Environmental Systems Designs, says, "We have noticed that disaster recovery sites are not just black boxes anymore and companies are getting away from retaining data at one location." More and more companies are opting for this method of reducing operation interruptions. Seaton says two benefits are interrelated and immediately apparent: Each location can back up the others, and critical staff can switch with relative ease from one facility to the other.

SunGard Availability Services, a Wayne, Pa.-based firm whose officials describe as an international business continuity provider, builds and manages data co-location facilities. The firm has constructed an average of two facilities a year for more than a decade. Sam Rizzo, senior director of facilities, notes that companies have been increasing their requests for dedicated emergency office space. This development could dramatically boost the space requirements for a company's facilities, which already offer dedicated storage space for data equipment.

At the highest level of data security, equipment is stored in 1,200- to 2,500-sq- ft rooms within a room. The inner space is enclosed in a sandwich of 20-gauge steel mesh and drywall. Steel mesh is also used on the ceiling and in the raised floor. Motion detectors are placed around the perimeter. There is also a foil coating around the space to reduce radio wave encryption from outside the facility, according to Rizzo.

"Security measures in our facilities include picture recognition, card access, fingerprinting, a specialized digital code required to access data, noxious gas detection systems, bulletproof plexiglass and other measures to ensure the safety of data," Rizzo says.

Each co-location receives electrical services from separate power sources, multiple fiber-optic providers, an excess amount of copper connectivity options and satellite communication capabilities, according to Rizzo. Category 6 wiring, designed for network systems featuring up to 200 MHz of bandwidth, is becoming the standard, he adds.


The complex staffing and data needs of network control centers (NCCs) and disaster recovery centers makes predesign programming an even more critical part of the design process. Mission-critical building costs start at $250 per sq ft and are rising. This places added focus on programming, according to Tim Dueck, senior business development director of energy and technology for Ellerbe Becket, a Minneapolis-based architect-engineering firm.

Dueck says that despite the common assumption that technology costs decline over time, the reverse is true for mission-critical facilities. "Enhanced security features, increased hardening, more system redundancies and high survivability continue to drive up costs," he says. Therefore, establishing a comprehensive program with the entire architecture, engineering and construction team is an even greater imperative with mission-critical facilities.

Philip J. Siroskey, senior architect with General Motors' worldwide facilities group and capital projects, commissioned the creation of a program-development process that GM can employ for mission-critical facilities anywhere in the world.

While building its new 17,000-sq-ft worldwide operations center in Pontiac, Mich.–completed this year–GM realized its divisions would benefit from its experience at the headquarters facility. Siroskey worked with in-house staff and Ellerbe Becket to create a base program and program development process to assist divisions that must create backup data centers, computer control centers and other highly technical facilities.

"Programming mission-critical facilities is complex because there are so many ways to achieve levels of reliability," says Siroskey. "Because it is a specialty area, many architects and engineers can use help getting proper information from the owner. The final program for other mission-critical facilities still will be created by outside consultants, but now we have a solid process for communicating our exact needs."

The program document is an effective tool, Siroskey says, especially when it is combined with a standardized programming workshop in which IT department heads lead discussions with division executives. At GM, the meetings focused on specific operations, equipment, allowable downtime and maintenance requirements.

Williams Communications in Tulsa conceals a secure operations center within a dynamic work environment. (Photo courtesy of HOK)


The increasing desire for secure operations centers that are also dynamic work environments is illustrated at Williams Communications' new headquarters in Tulsa, Okla. The telecommunications and broadband connectivity company's 750,000-sq-ft, 15-story building was designed by St. Louis-based Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum Inc., working with interiors firm Bellwether Design, Tulsa. The team designed a visually stimulating building with a highly secured network operations center at its core. The three-story, 47,000-sq-ft network operations center provides a spacious environment that eliminates feelings of confinement. Only authorized staff are allowed through double door manlocks, which are monitored by key cards and video surveillance.

The owner quickly realized the importance of minimizing traffic to and from the secure zone. To achieve this, many operational needs are provided in the operations center.

Offices for operations center executives and supervisors are in the secured area. Conference rooms and meeting spaces are arranged so staff does not have to leave the area for meetings. Private lockers are provided along the perimeter of the space. Employees can make personal phones calls from the secured area. There is a dedicated break room with a lounge, a kitchen with fresh food vending and natural lighting.

DATA CO-LOCATION Backup locations are being designed to mimic those at headquarters. (Photo © Sunguard Availability Services)


In addition to improving the standard for their own mission-critical facilities, corporations and institutions are also increasing their requirements for co-location operation centers. Co-location centers are third-party providers with the expertise to maintain mission-critical operations. Co-locations were swamped after Sept 11. Companies are now finding it worthwhile to configure dedicated technical space to their exact needs and to have data storage available when needed.

Robert McCauley, partner with Philadelphia architect Ueland Junker McCauley Nicholson, has designed numerous co-location facilities around the country. "Some corporations now want to be able to move their critical staff into dedicated suites during emergency situations," he says.

McCauley is in negotiations for a new co-location facility that would provide a large range of dedicated space. "There are room configurations from 50 seats to 300 seats in large, open-office environments with good lighting, high ceilings and work stations similar to what the specific client is coming from in their home office," McCauley says. "The co-locations now mimic corporate space, including comfortable kitchens and lounge areas designed for people who put in long hours of work."

Typically, shared facilities have long lines of computer work areas with no real privacy dividers between them. With dedicated space, designers incorporate the specific company workstation standards and configuration to make the emergency space as similar in feel and operation as those at the headquarters facility.

McCauley indicates that security measures are continuing to increase for both dedicated office space and data storage areas in a co-location. "There can be four to seven levels of security in a space," McCauley says. Iris scans, biometrics and security cameras on tracks that follow people through rooms filled with secured computer cabinets are among the features he has incorporated in co-location facilities.

The complex needs of co-location facilities present extra challenges for mechanical and electrical engineers. Ralph Antonelli, the owner of West Chester, Pa., mechanical electrical RAtech Engineering, has been building co-location facilities since 1989. "As the co-location clients become more educated they are asking for more from their recovery center," Antonelli says.

With the increased interest in dedicated seats, communication between owner, designer and contractor is more important than ever. Clients are specifying how they want space arranged, what workstations and desktop computers they want, what servers and routers they need and how they want electrical panels set up so that their engineers will be familiar with them on short notice, he says.

Antonelli has encountered a company that is considering contracting for 1,000 dedicated seats, an order that places greater demand on systems. "Increased electrical distribution capabilities, additional back-up generators, more battery backup and larger fuel storage areas all have to be considered because of the new requests for large amounts of dedicated seats," he says.


Extensive programming, including site analysis cost comparisons, led national retailer Target to locate it's 17,500-sq-ft backup facility on the same site as its new 113,000-sq-ft technical center. Both were designed by Ellerbe Becket. Dueck says that insurance companies provide rate incentives to locate backup facilities at increased distances from operation centers. Business continuity insurance also is a factor that can greatly impact the design of backup facilities and network operation centers.

However, Target decided there were substantial financial benefits and minimal risks in siting its backup operations a quarter-mile from the technical center on the same site at the company's suburban Minneapolis campus, Dueck says.

The are a number of measures owners can take to harden or structurally reinforce a backup site. Berms, blast walls and other barriers to protect against perceived threat are some of the most common. Dueck says that berms are highly effective, yet unobtrusive. If a client is willing to spend the money, designers can take a number of additional precautions for mission-critical buildings. Some options include incorporating seismic measures for one zone higher than required in the region, providing protection against 50-year winds from hurricanes or tornadoes and designing internal hardening between equipment.

Internal isolation is key in preventing damage from small, isolated events from turning into potentially larger problems. "It is important to make sure that any catastrophe from a generator, fuel storage tank, battery back-up, heating or air-conditioning unit is confined," Dueck says.

At the Target facility in the tornado-prone Midwest, double-wall and roof systems protect against 200-mph winds."The outer face brick facade is designed to pull away in F3 level tornadoes," Dueck says. However, the inner precast-concrete, waterproof wall is designed to withstand impact forces from a vehicular collision or a blown tree.

Interior concrete masonry unit walls help provide blast and fire protection between equipment rooms in the main facility, which eventually will house 11 generators.


Jim Todd, an engineer and project manager of mission-critical facilities for Minneapolis-based contractor Ryan Construction Co., points out the importance of commissioning such facilities once they are built. In bringing backup data and technical centers online, "commissioning" is the process of verifying proper operation of equipment and systems before a mission-critical facility becomes fully operational. According to Todd, the most successful commissioning process begins by having a full team assembled at the beginning of the project.

To ensure thoroughness, Ryan has implemented a five-step commissioning process. "We provide factory witness testing, FOB inspection upon delivery to make sure the right piece of equipment was shipped and not damaged, individual component testing, systems tests and integrated systems tests," Todd says.

During these steps, a commissioning agent deliberately tries to make the facility fail in order to verify its capabilities. "The earlier an owner can have people on board who are actually going to test the systems and those who will run the facility, the smoother the transition from construction to operation will be," says Todd.

For the Target technology center, which Ryan Construction both built and commissioned, the contractor followed its own advice and assembled a full team early in the project. "Having the team together fostered communications, coordination and preplanning that in the end really paid off," Todd says.

The team surpassed its own expectations. "We delivered a more reliable facility in less time and for less money than we thought possible," he says.

merican companies have varied approaches to the creation of network operation centers, disaster recovery facilities and backup storage locations. What is unwavering is the resolve among corporations to ensure that proper facilities are in place. They want more comfortable work environments at operation centers, dedicated emergency office space at co-locations and added space at branch offices for disaster situations.