Critical infrastructure and building compliance

by | Apr 28, 2023 | Building design trends

The extraordinary growth in data centres over the past decade is set to accelerate to meet rising demand as Australia heads off into the cloud. The increasingly digital and interconnected world has created a huge appetite for data storage and processing at speed, fuelled by innovations across smart agriculture, manufacturing, supply chain and real time requirements in video and live conferencing, banking and trading, telepresence, and gaming to name a few. Their strategic importance is now talked about in terms of ‘sovereign capability’. 

What are data centres built for?

Data centres are critical infrastructure facilities that house servers, storage systems and networking equipment for governments, businesses and other organisations. These facilities are designed to provide secure, reliable, and highly available computing resources to support mission-critical applications and services. In Australia, data centres are subject to a range of building compliance issues that must be considered when building or operating these facilities.   

Are there specific areas of compliance?

For building surveyors, compliance with the NCC is a first port of call, which ensures that assets are structurally sound, fire-resistant, and have appropriate ventilation, lighting, and accessibility. It should be noted that Section J of the NCC is not applicable to areas that are conditioned for the function of machinery (such as found in data centres). However, there are other disciplines that are needed when assessing the overall data centre built environment or indeed its performance in use. These disciplines fall outside of the building surveyor purview but are essential considerations for overall compliance. 

One of the more notable features of a data centre is the power demand, making electrical safety an important consideration. Compliance with AS/NZS 3000:2018 Electrical Installations is mandatory for electrical installations in Australia. This high demand means that NABERS Energy for Data Centres Rules are used by assessors to rate the energy performance of a data centre in use. 

Due to the power consumption and/or battery storage, cooling systems are vital for maintaining the temperature and humidity levels required for equipment to function correctly. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) guidelines are often referenced to ensure that cooling systems are efficient and effective.  

As mentioned earlier, these are high-value targets for cyber-attacks and physical breaches, so security is a vital issue to address for any build. Compliance with the Australian Government’s Protective Security Policy Framework and the Information Security Manual (ISM) is essential to ensure that a data centre is secure.  

In summary, building a compliant data centre in Australia requires a thorough understanding of the relevant regulations and standards, as well as a range of technical and operational considerations. Engaging with experienced data centre consultants and service providers can help ensure that a data centre project is successful. In addition to building compliance, there are several other factors that developers must consider including site selection, power supply, connectivity, and scalability. 

What are the key technology trends that could impact future compliance?

In the past few years Australia’s data centre floor space has grown by up to 14 per cent, which is forecast to continue for at least the next five years with investment in both hyperscale and small-scale centres. Organisations continue to invest in cloud, and now multi-cloud providers, and as a result ‘edge computing’ is rising, bringing processing and storage closer to where data is generated. Edge data centres are compact and close to the edge of a network. They house the same equipment found in traditional data centres, but contained in a smaller footprint nearer to end users and devices. This trend may impact compliance requirements as edge data centres will likely need a different compliance pathway compared to large scale centralised data centres.    

This hybrid architecture for data centres will continue to develop, with hyperscale structures being built around major cities and local micro centres across business districts and suburbs. Over the next three to five years, we can expect to see more large data centres being built in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. However, many more micro centres will be built over the next five years than were built in the previous 15 years. The landscape will change with thousands of these around Australia over the next decade. They will be local, in commercial buildings, underneath 5G towers, in places to ensure that people have instant connectivity across their hybrid IT architecture. 

Modular design and construction can already be seen in warehouse and industrial buildings and will inevitably spread to other structures being built in volume. These modular structures will consist of pre-manufactured, pre-tested data centre components that can be rapidly assembled in situ. The modular approach will have different compliance requirements than traditional brick-and-mortar data centres, particularly with regard to fire safety and structural integrity.  

Many developers are exploring the use of renewable energy sources to reduce their carbon footprint. Compliance requirements for renewable energy systems may differ from those for traditional power systems, particularly with regard to electrical safety and environmental regulations. As these and other technology trends continue to evolve, building compliance requirements for data centres may need to be updated to reflect the changing landscape. Data centre operators, contractors and building surveyors will need to stay up to date with the latest regulations and industry best practices to ensure that these facilities remain secure, reliable, and compliant with local regulations.  

Building surveyors play a crucial role in ensuring that data centres comply with relevant legislation and regulations. They are responsible for assessing and certifying that data centres meet the required standards for building compliance. To do this they need to have a thorough understanding of the relevant legislation and regulations, as well as the technical and operational requirements of data centres. 

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