What defines a mission critical facility?

The definition of a mission critical facility is broad, and formed by the owner of the building.

By Bill Kosik, PE, CEM, BEMP, LEED AP BD+C, HP Data Center Facilities Consulting, C March 23, 2015

Mission critical facilities are broadly defined as containing any operation that, if interrupted, will cause a negative impact on business activities, ranging from losing revenue to jeopardizing legal conformity to, in extreme cases, loss of life. Data centers, hospitals, laboratories, public safety centers, and military installations are just a few of the many types of buildings that could be considered mission critical.

While there are several formal codes and standards, such as NFPA 70: National Electric Code, various hospital administrative codes and a presidential directive set up to guard against failure of critical infrastructure in the United States, there is no uniform definition of a mission critical facility. But to maintain continuous operation of the facility and the internal processes taking place, redundant power and cooling systems must be present in varying degrees of reliability.

The redundant systems, regardless of the type of mission critical facility, will cause energy use inefficiencies to some degree. Using multiple paths of power, cooling, and ventilation distribution will likely result in less efficient operation of fans, pumps, chillers, transformers, and more. This is not always true,but it certainly poses challenges to determining the most effective way to run redundant systems-especially when each distribution path will likely contain multiple sensors, actuators, and other safety devices.

Many codes acknowledge that systems that support life safety and guard against hazards will be exempt from requirements that apply to noncritical power and cooling systems. However, sometimes it is not apparent where the boundary lies between mission critical and non-mission critical.

Bill Kosik is a distinguished technologist at HP Data Center Facilities Consulting. He is the leader of "Moving toward Sustainability," which focuses on the research, development, and implementation of energy-efficient and environmentally responsible design strategies for data centers. Kosik collaborates with clients, developing innovative design strategies for cooling high-density environments, and creating scalable cooling and power models.