Ever since the dotcom 1990s, more and more data centers have been big-box warehouse type facilities. Initially, these were primarily “greenfield” (ground up) facilities, usually built on some agriculture or unused acreage that was relatively close to the fiber networks. New Internet class data centers built by Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and others represent the ultimate in big-box data centers.

Building a big-box data center from scratch affords users the opportunity to design the facility around their own particular needs. Columns can be spaced at optimal distances, raised floor heights maximized, ramps eliminated, and chilled water pipes placed in trenches. The benefits go on: underground electric feeds, roofing and walls that meet the latest storm and security requirements, and roof pitch that eliminates interior storm drains. Building on a greenfield site means that that construction noise, activities, and schedules seldom conflict with adjacent tenants or neighbors and the owner can do all the customized things that can only be done in a new building.

On the flip side, greenfield construction often means paying for and making site improvements such as sewer and water lines along with running communications lines and utility power. Delivery of the communications and utility power alone can run many millions of dollars and place the project schedule at the mercy of the utility and communications companies.

As time has gone on, prime Greenfield sites have become fewer, and it is taking longer to secure permits. Other factors, such as the cost of new construction and potential LEED points for repurposing the ample stock of manufacturing and warehouse facilities, are now beginning to affect site selection. Corporate decision makers have also changed their attitudes and actively look for “green” opportunities that do not encumber the cornfields and forests.

But pursuing these more developed environments is not without issues. Neighbors tend to be more vocal about noise and air pollution controls for generators, fuel storage is more challenging, column spacing and overhead clearances are typically less than ideal, significant space is lost to ramps, roof drains will be present, conduits and chilled water piping will get routed through the data center, and environmental clean up may be necessary, depending upon the site’s prior use.

In spite of these many issues, the industry is becoming more adept at modifying older buildings and developing methods to minimize the building’s shortcomings as a data center site.

Taking this trend to the extreme brings the question:

Will mothballed auto manufacturing plants with their ample power, water, sewer, and established communications be the next iteration of the “Big-Box Data Center”?

Perhaps Detroit is poised to become the next data center capital?

We would like to hear from you as to where do you see the data center facility market going?

Is the economy a primary factor in the decision to go new or to repurpose existing?

SIDEBAR:About “Cronin's Workshop”

Win a Mission Critical coffee mug

The enormous creativity of our industry means that we face radical changes in the way we design, build, operate, and maintain mission critical facilities. Making this change will demand strong debate about what is right, wrong, and best practice.

We have created “Cronin’s Workshop” to foster this debate. Each month our columnist Dennis Cronin will describe a problem and pose a solution. We want to hear what you have to say about these problem/solutions posed by Dennis. In the subsequent issue we will publish the best positive and negative opinions received from readers. Please email contributions to the editor at heslink@bnpmedia.com, and win a free coffee mug.