When choosing a designer for a proposed data centre it is vital to understand that the process should not just focus around price. The role of designer has evolved over time and it is no longer acceptable for price to be the only factor on which to base a decision. If you don’t get it right at the design phase, it could end up costing you more at a later stage.

It is never just a black and white choice. The recession has hit almost every business and cost reduction has become a way of life for many, but for data centre operators looking to build a new facility selecting the cheapest bid from designers is simply not acceptable. You need to examine what you are actually buying from a designer, its knowledge, and that knowledge has been acquired via experience.

What experience does the company have?

The obvious question everyone goes for concerns the experience of the company as a whole in designing data centres. At a time when every spend needs to be justified to the board, it is essential that the designs are feasible and will meet your business needs. An experienced company will understand the design criteria of the past, and how they evolve over time.

You wouldn’t trust the build of your house to an architect who has never designed one before. They may get the obvious fundamentals right but how about the more complex issues such as sizing the bathrooms or positioning the drainage. You may be perfectly happy with what you are given, and never appreciate how much better it could have been.

Ask questions to clarify the experience of the designers to which you are speaking. They may claim to have worked on some well known projects, but what part did they actually play? How big was their role in the project and how long did they work on it? Often we will receive bids from competing designers many of which claim to have carried out the same project. When questioned it will turn out that they have employed someone who worked for another company on the project, or they carried out some minor re-fit but gave the impression the whole project was theirs.

Find a company with the right experience that can prove it actually delivered the project, is just half of the problem solved. Just because the company did some great projects how many of the individuals who carried out those projects are being put forward for your scheme, or are still with the company at all.

What experience do the individuals have?

The next step is to read through the CV’s of the actual people being put forward and understand what experience they have. They are the ones who will actually be carrying out the work, not the “bricks and mortar” of the company for which they work.

It is however, important to remember that you are going into contract with the company, not the individual. The individuals you based your selection upon could easily leave the company, and although some contracts will allow you to specify “key staff” that doesn’t really solve the problem. You therefore need to review the likely staff turnover (based on previous years) and have confidence in the company as well as the individuals.

Right choice today, still the right choice tomorrow…

If the company has the right experience and right staff you have won half the battle, but it is also important to understand how the company plans to evolve over the duration of the project. You need to have confidence that the partner you are signing to work with is financially secure and will be able to fulfil the work set out. On the flip side you also want to know that your project will be important to them – if the company has aggressive growth plans for the near future, will you be a showcase account for them or sink down the list of importance?

Value is key

In a recession the phrase “too poor to buy cheap” become prevalent. Experience has shown that when price is the primary consideration in a purchase decision, the cost of ownership will probably be much higher. Replacing a shoddy service or getting poor advice will always cost more in the long run. Ultimately, a reduced price doesn’t necessarily equate to good value.

The best defence is to have a strong in house design team which is only supplemented by outside help. This gives you better continuity and control over the resources, and the option of utilising the experience of any external consultants you may need.