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The Built Environment of the Data Center
Bill Mazzetti, Senior Vice President, Rosendin Electric
Computing is demand-based, scalable, and diverse. Today, so are your critical facilities. After the Dot Com, data center facilities have evolved away from purpose-built to leased or scaled facilities similar to the SaaS model. These facilities are based on a mature design, construction, and operational practices vetted over decades. There are still a few points to consider.
Data Center Infrastructure
The data center is curated for the continuous operation of your IT infrastructure. It possesses redundant power and cooling systems in a host of proven schemes. Power systems consist of diverse sources from the utility, generators, and UPS power systems for power continuity. Mechanical systems offer similar continuous cooling options. Regardless, there is no prescribed answer for power and cooling infrastructure or building robustness. Industry standards, such as ANSI/BICSI’s Data Center Standard 002, offer performance-based metrics for normal, failure, and maintenance modes of operation. You can choose the proper built environment for your needs all manifested in the operator’s SLA with you.
Regardless of what facility, service provider, or design you may choose, all of these systems are judged on three metrics: system availability, power utilization efficiency (PUE), and water utilization efficiency (WUE). Infrastructure availability is measured the same as app and system availability—it is up and powering the load or it’s not.
PUE and WUE represent the facility’s energy efficiency and water conservation. PUE also has a direct correlation to the operating costs via the total power consumed. WUE represents how efficiently water is used in the data center. This should be a focus for new facility selection or development.
The fact is that water is becoming scarcer in all of the major data center markets. We see great risk in water allocation or cost in a color owned facility.
When corporate data centers were born in the 1980’s, they looked more like laboratories
Buy, Build, Lease?
When corporate data centers were born in the 1980’s they looked more like laboratories. The building infrastructure was custom-built for the compute and storage systems. Some will remember 415 Hz power systems and dedicated chillers supplying water to main frames. Fast forward a few decades and the options for IT services are varied, scalable, more homogeneous, and nuanced.
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Today, data center spaces have evolved into a real-estate solution based on an IaaS model. There is a logical break for most businesses operating at scale, where building your own will be cheaper than leasing from others. However, firms like SAP or Oracle primarily use a leased model at hyper-scale, while even some of Microsoft’s non-Azure business lease colo space.
High-scale businesses may find leasing and retail colo more prudent due to speed of delivery, coupled with the flexibility and ability to delay decisions, that makes this option more desirable than build-to-suite. Our rule of thumb is when the cost-to-own and operate is more than $2000 per 1 kW of IT load above 2 MW of IT load, it becomes financially prudent to build versus lease.
The Planning, Facility Entitlement and Permitting Process
Should you undertake a data center construction effort? There are three sets of hurdles to overcome that pose delivery date risks: site selection, incentives, and construction.
The first step in the planning process is site selection. This verifies that your site has sufficient access to fiber, workforce, and that the site selection is a relatively vanilla process. A nationwide site search can be reasonably completed in six to twelve months.
The next step is the pursuit of incentives from the local jurisdiction. Incentives may be offered through a one-off transaction, or as part of an enterprise zone established by a jurisdiction to attract a certain type of business. Incentives can include construction and IT sales tax abatement and property or labor tax relief. Be forwarded that incentives may involve local political votes, lending some risk.
Next are the project’s entitlement and permitting processes. Many aspects of this entitlement and permit are vetted during the site selection process and would include emission abatement and limitations. Once the project enters the planning commission process, which may be as short as one month or up to one year, depends on the temperament and alignment of the planning department with the incentive and governance of the local area. If a city wants a business, planning, and entitlement, the project planning process is expedited and enabled.
This process will get you to the final hurdle where you can design and build the project. Although in daunting in appearance, this portion of the work is well known. While there is a myriad of paperwork and operating permits to secure, this part has the lowest risk part of the site development.