McKinstry: Denver International Airport Data Center

New construction; commissioning, retro-commissioning; airport; and new construction

By McKinstry August 9, 2018

Engineering firm: McKinstry

2018 Commissioning Giants rank: 4

Project: Denver International Airport Data Center

Location: Denver, CO, United States

Building type: Data center

Project type: New construction

Engineering services: Commissioning, retro-commissioning

Project timeline: January 2012 to December 2015

Commissioning budget: $1,400,000


The Denver International Airport (DEN) Data Center is the first true design-build project at DEN. As such, third-party commissioning played a critical role in achieving the facility’s demanding specifications and technical standards.

The data center is designed to be concurrently maintainable meeting the Uptime Institute Tier III standards. The Tier III topology targets a demonstrated 99.98% of uptime reliability and reduces unplanned failures to a 4-hour event every 2.5 years or 1.6 hours on an annual basis. The DEN Data Center is designed and constructed for a minimum of N+1 for mechanical, electrical,and other systems and components.

DEN hired McKinstry to conduct third-party commissioning for the data center and its systems. This work included commissioning new lighting controls, emergency power distribution, UPS systems, standby generator, chillers and computer room cooling systems.

The DEN Data Center achieved LEED Silver with 53 points featuring the following:

  • Modular building design fully shop-fabricated in a controlled environment to maximize construction efficiency, reduce construction waste, and maximize the indoor environmental quality.
  • The building performs 38% better compared with the baseline building performance.
  • The building uses more than 40% less water compared with the baseline building water usage and uses no potable water for landscaping.


McKinstry performed commissioning services for the new Denver International Airport Data Center-the first true design-build project at DEN. The facility was designed to Uptime Institute Tier III standards and is a colocation facility for the airport, airlines,and private entities. A number of the facility’s features also met UI Tier IV requirements. This meant that the data center has critical power and cooling system redundancy where no single point of failure is possible at the critical systems level.

McKinstry’s specific commissioning tasks included:

  • Owner’s project requirements development and guiding the design team to a solution that met the client’s challenging needs.
  • Equipment submittal reviews and ongoing site visits to ensure both design and DEN specifications were met.
  • Commissioning of the HVAC, electrical,and plumbing systems, including:
    • Four air handling units in a N+1 configuration that utilize indirect evaporative cooling through a heat pipe as well as direct expansion cooling.
    • Humidifiers and split systemAC units for cooling electrical and support spaces.
    • Deionized water system for humidifiers and domestic hot water heater.
    • All distribution equipment, including generators, automatic transfer switches, switchboards, uninterruptable power supplies, power distribution units,and busway.
    • Infrared scanning of distribution systems with the use of load banks for simulated electrical load.

Due to the unique and complex nature of this project, McKinstry’s team developed an integrated system test that simulates various system failures to verify redundancy.

With an innovative design and construction approach, this data center earned a LEED Silver Certification-a major milestone given the challenges of such a complex facility.