The Big Nine: Critical Factors That Should Drive Your Next Data Center Project

Planning is always key to a successful build or relocation. Fold in specific considerations to ensure your planning process is complete and effective.

In one very practical sense, the construction or relocation of a data center is like any other capital-intensive initiative: the devil lies in the details of planning. No matter the nature of the project, the goal is always to minimize the surprises that inevitably crop up along the way, surprises that could hamper (or worse, disable) your dreams of cost, schedule and quality control.

With that in mind, we’ve identified nine key drivers of planning success, upfront conversations you need to have with your construction manager or your potential landlord. Many of these factors are based on predictability. In a recent data center webinar, Loudoun County (Virginia) Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer touched on a few of these key points. Echoing the importance of planning, he stated that a nearly bullet-proof construction process is key to success, as is aligning with partners who “get” the importance of speed to market. These two must-haves are the underpinnings of what we’ll call The Big Nine, and for those keeping score, we’ll number each.

The first question, that everything else we discuss is built upon, has to be (1) power availability, redundancy and reliability. Power is to data centers what square footage is to commercial real estate. Data center customers are paying the landlords/providers monthly dollars-per-kW primarily for the right to access power (along with reliable cooling and secure space). So clearly, power availability, redundancy, and reliability are the number-one factor in data center site selection. Have  you determined how much power is called for and will the center support your needs, now and as you grow? Is there adequate backup and, in the case of previously built centers, what is their record of outages? How new is the equipment and how reliable is the incoming feed from the utility provider? Finally, what is the electrical infrastructure design? Is it 2N, N+1?

Rizer emphasized the importance of (2) a business-friendly environment. Indeed, no one wants picketers in front of the construction fence screaming “NIMBY!” But it goes much broader than that. How business-focused is the local municipality? Will your permits or incentives be bogged down in bureaucracy or benefit by their awareness of the importance of growing local commerce? We should note here that Loudoun County, with its huge volume of data centers, runs like a well-oiled machine, and folks like Riser are on board to prove their focus on business growth.

What about the ability of the locale to provide (3) skilled workers—for both the construction itself as well as for the ongoing management and maintenance of the center? Here, the bad news of the nation’s current high single-digit unemployment actually becomes good news for firms looking to put people to work.

A business-friendly environment also entails the ability to reap the benefits of (4) incentives.  These can come in the form of tax breaks from groups such as Rizer’s as well as through the local utilities. But also consider incentives granted by whichever local body—Fire Marshall, Building Code Inspector or Health Inspector—that serves as the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). For more on data center incentives, please click here.

And of course, since we’ve mentioned utilities, enter your project with a firm grasp of (5) the utilities’ rate structures. They differ, of course, from locale to locale and could be the source of additional incentive programs.

Upfront conversations about (6) your fiber-optic connectivity options are also key. For instance, the essential choice is dark or lit fiber, the first a dedicated line, which many customers prefer, the second carrying a variety of users. Some customers need both; all customers need one or the other. Facilities that support more than one fiber-optics carrier are also important to maximize options. Owners of data centers want such options to attract a range of customers.

You should also consider (7) the location’s proximity to your other business functions and customers. In a sense, this relates, at least in part, back to the staffing issue. Do IT workers have a six-hour drive to get to your facility? In cases where center occupants connect to other providers (e.g.: Amazon to Facebook) proximity also speaks to latency and how long it takes to connect. As you add distance and switches, you also extend latency.

No matter the project type, (8) sustainability has become a key concern. Consider this: According to a recent Bisnow report, “Data centers consumed 205 terawatt-hours of electricity consumption in 2018, or about 1% of total consumption worldwide.”

The report states that major advancements, such as innovative cooling techniques and power generated by renewable sources, have helped data centers make major reductions in their carbon footprints.  And a good thing it is, since investment banks are “ready and willing to cut long-term financial agreements for renewable energy projects,” says Bisnow. Add to that the dual realizations that corporate boards are embracing Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) mandates in their mission statements, and that sustainability is a selling point for investors and customers, and you have a triple win.

You can actually benchmark the efficiency of your data center power usage through what’s called a PUE (Power Usage Efficiency), as the rather cumbersome name implies, a ratio of the total amount of energy used by the facility to the energy delivered to computing equipment. You can contact Verity Commercial to discuss the implications of PUE on your next—or even your current—project. (For a deeper dive into PUEs, please click on this link, which takes you to Verity Commercial’s blog page. )

Finally, but certainly as critical as any other of the Big Nine, is (9) security, both physical and of the cyber-type. You need to protect your physical space, be it via guards, cameras and motion detectors, cages and mesh systems. In centers provided as managed services, cybersecurity is also a particular area of concern, but the protection and sanctity of your data should be an early question no matter what the nature of the facility.

Surprises in both the construction and relocation process are inevitable.  But arming yourself with as much information as you can load upfront will pay major dividends in the cost, schedule and quality goals of the facility. We invite you to reach out to the experts of Verity Commercial, who can help guide you through your Big Nine issues.

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