There was a time, not terribly long ago, when the telecommunications industry spoke of "convergence." Voice and data would soon be one and the complexity that goes with building and maintaining separate systems would evaporate. That time is upon us, and actually, it has been for years. Why, then, is building the corporate information technology infrastructure still so complicated?
Technology has become the lifeblood of today's organization. The infrastructure supporting IT systems is no less important in the design and construction of a facility than electrical service and water utilities. Unfortunately, many decisions related to the construction of IT systems are delayed until costly revisions are required and compromises must be accepted by the owner and/or end user.
Convergence has not just brought voice and data together, it has also allowed other technologies such as security, video-teleconferencing and building automation to be connected via the corporate network. What were once separate systems in limited locations now reach out to diverse corners of the facility including mechanical and electrical spaces, board rooms, parking garages, and even door jambs.
Today's architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) teams are made up of diverse experts with equally diverse points of view and are faced with a myriad of challenges during design and construction. IT professionals, architects, constructors and other project stakeholders all speak different languages and generally have different perspectives. The ability to properly discover, document and communicate IT infrastructure requirements, not only verbally but also within design documents, is vital. Owners are often not able to articulate their needs clearly and the construction team usually isn't equipped with the requisite knowledge or experience to ask the right questions. Without the ability to thoroughly communicate those needs across the entire spectrum of stakeholders, integrating a quality technology infrastructure into a project on time and within budget is virtually impossible.
IT professionals, who are used to being the "go to guys" for everything IT related and accustomed to doing everything themselves, assume that a construction project is "just another project." Later in the design process, however, they find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Although IT infrastructure design is obviously related to IT, the process and deliverables are vastly different.
Over the last 25 years, architects have evolved as technology has become an integral part of our world. There is an ongoing, yet subtle transition from the senior architects who dealt sparingly with technology, to younger architects who have grown up so immersed in technology that they take it for granted. Often the naivete of the architectural design team with respect to technology infrastructure results in inadequate pre-design budgets and design omissions. Consequentially, many critical design elements such as cabling systems, critical MEP loads and audio-visual systems are not considered until very late, many times too late, to be economically or effectively integrated into a construction project.
Behind the Wall
All too often though, the IT infrastructure remains an afterthought in the design and construction process. A building's IT infrastructure can be described as the spaces, pathways and associated systems that provide telephone service, network and web access, data storage, critical power systems, audio/visual controls, and an ever increasing list of building systems. Technology equipment such as servers, audio/visual components and wireless devises do not stand alone passively like a piece of furniture. Each of these systems consume space, require power, generate heat and require connectivity throughout the facility. By planning, designing and integrating the infrastructure necessary to support a client's technology needs early in the process, and not as problems emerge, construction and design teams can be proactive and avoid costly redesigns.
For example, a small, mission critical server room can require anywhere from 100kw to 250kw of uninterruptable power. When considered early in the project, along with associated systems and services required to support the space; all is well. But what if the building's core and shell mechanical and electrical systems did not take this critical load into consideration? Does the building's electrical service, switchgear and distribution have this capacity? Can the building's chillers and air distribution system provide enough heat exchange to cool the space on a 24/7 basis? Do these systems possess adequate redundancy for unexpected failure or routine maintenance? If these questions, and others, aren't properly answered or the budgets for these systems are found to be inadequate, what then?
The IT infrastructure simply must be included early in the design process. Budgets must be appropriate and the design and coordination must be comprehensive to allow the constructors to provide quality installation. To meet these demands and address the complexity, we have developed what we refer to as the "OneInfrastructure Process." OneInfrastructure encourages the design and construction teams to view a project's IT infrastructure as an integral part of the entire design and construction process, and not simply a piece that can be integrated at a later stage.
Looking Beyond Today
Because of the fluid nature of today's IT systems, it can be very difficult to predict what will be required six months from now, much less two to five years down the road. Planning room for growth and the ability to deploy new equipment and services, known as "future-proofing," is another very important aspect of the OneInfrastructure Process. Technology hardware takes up space, requires power, creates heat and, typically, more of it is needed rather than less as time goes on. Simple and cost effective accommodations can be made today when designing a space's technology infrastructure to allow for the growth of a client's organization in addition to enabling the addition of equipment and migration to new, perhaps unknown, technologies.
Technology is indeed the lifeblood of business today. The greater communication, efficiency and productivity it allows for continues to enhance the ability of organizations and individuals alike to do their work. With this increased role, however, comes increased dependence. Ensuring technology not only functions, but does so at an optimal level is a high-stakes game companies cannot afford to lose. This demand is not going away. Designers and contractors must see the infrastructure supporting their client's technology as an integral part of the entire project and not simply an outside consideration that can be addressed at anytime.
John Jankowski is president and founder of JanCom Technologies Inc.