Operation and Maintenance Manuals for Data Centres and why we love writing them

Data centres are in high demand. With our need for cloud services in every aspect of our lives and the acceleration of AI technology, substantial capacity is required.

 

While data centre operators are busy sourcing suitable sites to meet the growing demand, construction companies are queuing up to help build them, with technical writers like us close behind, sharpening our pencils – or more likely cleaning our keyboards read to assist.

Construction companies are welcoming a new revenue stream to replace slow-growth in residential and commercial property. Many are seeing a rapid year-on-year increase in market share in data centre projects, while others are just getting started and celebrating their first data centre orders. The competition is fierce.

As the rapid growth continues most towns will soon contain a data centre. There is even spinoff technology being developed to capture the heat generated from data centres, using it as renewable energy to heat local swimming pools for example; meaning the data centre’s running costs can be offset.

It’s exciting for us as technical writers to be at the forefront of this revolution, by writing the Operation and Maintenance Manuals (OMMs) that will become a key component in the running and maintaining of the data centre for its entire lifespan.

“This grants us privileged access to detailed aspects of the construction and function of these buildings, and having been the documentation company on data centre projects, we can confirm these are exciting technical projects to be involved with.”

Why do you need a professional OMM for a data centre?

The OMM is a requirement of the Health and Safety at Work Act and Building Regulations. A reliable source of information about legislation is given in ‘BG79/2020 – Handover Information and O&M Manuals’ published by BSRIA Inc.

The OMM is also a contractual requirement of the main contractor and is used by the facility management team for day-to-day operation and maintenance of the data centre building and its systems.

Consider how important cooling is in a building which can contain several data halls housing vast numbers of servers and associated electrical equipment, all of which generate a lot of heat. The OMM, which includes descriptions about how to start-up, operate, shut-down, and maintain these types of systems, is vital to the correct and efficient operation of a data centre.

Historically, OMMs have been written in-house by engineers, and in some cases still are. And whilst engineers are experts in designing systems and the necessary controls to operate them, explaining the operation of these systems in written procedural steps and formatting it for someone else to follow, is not their core skillset.

Let’s use our earlier example of cooling. Cooling is critical to the correct operation of data halls. Therefore, the OMM must contain stepped procedures which are written and formatted in a simple, logical, and consistent way so that the system’s operation is easy to understand and follow. That’s why an OMM should be written by a technical writer, experienced in writing such procedures, and using experts for important source material and review, not for creation of the whole OMM.

It’s a team effort!

As technical writers it’s essential for us to get up-close to projects, understand every aspect of the construction and operation, gather the knowledge of the designers, surveyors, builders, and engineers (collectively known as subject matter experts, or SMEs) and transfer their knowledge to the building operator or maintainer, in a format that is easy to locate the information needed to complete tasks. A professional OMM will be easy to navigate, logically structured, use suitable succinct language, and enable the user to focus on the task in hand.

The technical writer will use available source material to draft the necessary system descriptions, operation, and maintenance; however, the SMEs will provide important as-built information about the cooling system and its controls, which the technical writer will use to enhance and add value to the draft, ready for the SMEs to review and comment.

It can sometimes be challenging getting SMEs to engage. This is often due to high demand on their time and expertise, particularly as data centres contain complex systems and controls, and low importance put on the creation of the OMM. So a technical writer must have a mix of persistence, persuasion and professionalism. Remembering the technical writer is there to contribute and assist, not hinder.

Conclusion

The combined effort of both the technical writer and the SMEs will create a completed OMM which will complement the as-built operation and maintenance of the data centre and, importantly, give a smoother more streamlined handover which the client will appreciate.