The Data Center of the Century

Michael Silla, SVP-Mission Critical COE, Skanska USA

Can we build a data center that would last for 100 years or more? It’s a true challenge, especially when you think about how regularly and spectacularly our technology leaps forward, sometimes making facilities we build nearly obsolete before they are even completed.

Technology – the devices we use and the way we use it – is changing. By 2020, there will be 6.1 billion smartphones in use around the world, accounting for 80 per cent of all mobile data traffic.

With this growing reliance on cloud technology that supports an economic system that fits in the palm of our hands, we need to stretch the boundaries of what our projects are capable.

Many pieces of our nation’s infrastructure, including transportation, utilities and life-safety facilities (think hospitals and laboratories), are designed in terms of a 50-year lifespan. Many of those critical projects that were built in the middle of the last century are currently crumbling, with regular maintenance having been able to stretch their lifespan only so much. When it comes to our roads, bridges and tunnels, a great nationwide rebuilding renaissance is beginning to take place.

Given the complexity and cost of building those new facilities, some owners are challenging designers and builders with the concept of 100-year lifespans. At the other end of the spectrum, we find data centers, with a 10 to 15 year lifespan that is treated as all but inevitable.

As the construction industry continues to evolve and implement innovations to build faster and more efficiently, data center owners should expect the same demands to be placed on their buildings. With the major capital expenditure that a data center represents, these facilities must be flexible and adaptable to yet uninvented technologies and evolving security risks.

  â€‹Given the complexity and cost of building those new facilities, some owners are challenging designers and builders with the concept of 100-year lifespans  

Contractors can provide the path forward. Leveraging expertise and identifying solutions, we can make possible the data center that meets changing technological needs, creating an asset that enables business.

Using integrated delivery teams brings value to construction projects, by driving collaboration, accelerating project delivery, and significantly reducing project costs.

The best projects possess the following qualities:

• Agility: designing and building for scalability allows for speed to market, opportunities to right-size load, and allow for expansion and contraction where necessary;

• Flexibility: building facilities that can adapt to infrastructure as technology evolves, and designing a data center to be interchangeable (with the ability to change out and/or rearrange infrastructure quickly and efficiently) better situates projects for long-term success.

• Leverage environmental advantages: data centers should be designed with consideration for water and energy use, such as the Aligned Data Centers’ Phoenix project, which includes technology that runs more efficiently and are properly scaled to avoid overbuilding.

For any project, advanced construction methods – from Lean Construction to prefab methods and modularized design – can drive efficiency by maximizing value, controlling schedule and minimizing waste. It can also allow legacy space – facilities thought to be past their usable life span – to adapt to new demands and new uses. Getting a contractor involved early on in the process can also help the team produce a longer-term plan that is flexible and adaptable for future conditions.

As contractors, we need to understand the impact of new technology and the changing nature of business in order to meet the needs of the data center, for the next 100 years and beyond.

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