Vali Sorell has over 37 years of mechanical engineering experience, more than 22 of which has focused exclusively on the design and commissioning of mechanical systems for data centers. For most of his professional life, he has worked for consulting engineering firms providing design, controls, and commissioning services. Initially, he was involved in the design of the mechanical systems for lab facilities, clean rooms, and health care facilities. In the mid to late 1990s, the work shifted more toward critical facilities projects, and he has been doing that exclusively since then. He now serves as Principal Hardware Engineer in the Data Center Integration Services group at Microsoft. This group is comprised of several experts in each of their respective fields – thermal architects, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, data analytics experts, etc. – all charged with serving as the interface to facilitate the exchange of information and requirements between hardware/ITE design and facility design. He is a registered professional engineer (PE) and is an Accredited Tier Designer.
How I got into critical facility work:
My first involvement with a major data center project was for a large financial institution that hired the firm for which I was working to provide “on-site engineering services” for one of their major operating centers. The complexity and criticality of the projects performed for that facility convinced me that critical facility work would be a worthy challenge that would change and grow as the industry was beginning to explode. This experience proved to be critical (no pun intended) – every position after that was based on the previous position’s experience with critical facility work. After several years of “learning on the job,” I got involved with ASHRAE Technical Committee 9.9 just as it was beginning to form. That experience was exciting for me – it was the first time that other experts in the field came together to discuss ongoing design and operational issues relating strictly to data center design. It was a humbling experience in that I realized there was still so much I didn’t know. Unlike the mechanical engineering work I had done up to that time, working with data centers required more than just understanding air and liquid systems. The design of the ITE and the racks in which the ITE are connected in the data center space, understanding air flow management strategies, designing systems to provide the appropriate level of redundancy and availability, understanding the effects of contamination in the data center, etc. were all elements that started to come together as part of my ASHRAE involvement. Ironically, I found myself frequently in the position of wanting to volunteer in the writing of technical papers or contributing to the datacom series books, yet feeling like I didn’t have sufficient expertise to contribute. I volunteered anyway figuring I’ll make myself useful one way or another, but then came to the realization that the writing and presenting of these technical issues is the best way to learn and develop an expertise in a subject. I have thoroughly enjoyed this learning process, and more importantly have found out that the community of other experts and end users is huge, and that they give back many times over in response to our efforts to push the industry forward.
How I got involved with 7×24 Exchange:
Though I continue with my involvement with ASHRAE TC9.9, which is a great forum for addressing technical issues of system and hardware design and selection, I was still missing a forum to share information from the end users point of view. This was an aspect of my work that still needed to be developed in that my clients were expecting me to provide them guidance on operations as well as design. I attended my first 7×24 Exchange conference about 10 years ago, and I have tried to attend as often as possible since then. I have been very fortunate in that I have been able to present on several occasions on diverse issues – including work on one topic of great interest to me, which has been on ASHRAE’s development of an energy standard for data centers (Standard 90.4).
7×24 Exchange has enriched my professional life by widening my exposure to those whose lives revolve around data center operations and those who feel they have lots of learned lessons to share. Every interaction I have at any of 7×24’s conferences, whether it be at breaks, at breakfast, lunch or dinner, or even in line at the coffee shops, has been enriching, and I always look forward to them. The comradery experienced at these sessions is unlike any other I have experienced in any other data center forum. I’ve found it so important to share, network, teach, and learn that I joined my local chapter with the goal of adding more of these same types of experiences to my professional life. I enjoyed it so much that I was proud to be voted in as our Chapter’s president.