With smart phones, electronic personal assistants, and millions of apps at our fingertips, technology is not only becoming more pervasive in our everyday lives, the Internet of Things (IoT) is driving demand for increased data center storage. In fact, according to “The Future of the Data Center: Reinventing the Network,” the internet has grown by a factor of 100 over the past 10 years, driving an increase in data center computing by a factor 1,000.
An interesting forecast by International Data Corporation that was featured in DatacenterDynamics predicted that the total number of data centers will cap in 2017. That sounds hard to believe, but enterprise, financial, health care, and government sectors are no longer building and managing their own data centers. Instead, they are moving their data to facilities designed, built, and operated by experienced providers. As a result, data center storage facilities are facing a unique challenge. Do they develop new facilities or expand current ones?
Data center design and construction are the foundation of providing reliable, scalable service without delay or interruption. A strategy is emerging as the most sustainable and cost-effective approach: incremental growth.
The philosophy behind incremental growth requires innovative construction strategies, specialized expertise, and a master plan, but it is a philosophy that QTS has been employing to ensure that its customers have the best experience possible and can quickly and easily scale to meet their growing needs.
What is incremental growth?
In recent years, the “Field of Dreams” philosophy has driven many data center companies — “if you build it, they will come.” The problem, often with any speculative construction project, is that you may build a colossal data center capable of meeting demand for the next five or 10 years, but it’s not customizable — and forces potential customers into rigid categories and service solutions.
That is certainly not going to work for many of today’s data center customers who have a unique vision of their needs. In addition, this approach can place substantial strain on a company’s financial and operational resources by front-loading capital investments. Leaders in the data center industry are more focused on “right-sizing” a data center — controlling capital investments in property, space, and equipment, while at the same time ensuring operational costs align with the center’s current customer load. However, in order to do this, a data center must follow the incremental growth philosophy, which is characterized by the ability to use a master plan and innovative construction strategies that not only keep pace with customers’ needs, but also deliver services to streamline the expansion process, improve time to value, and offer a more customized solution.
According to Chad Williams, chairman and chief executive officer, QTS, “By following the incremental growth philosophy, QTS has built bigger, better, and more innovative data centers that are able to grow and integrate based on the rapid changes in the industry and our customers’ needs.”
THE THREE PILLARS OF INCREMENTAL GROWTH
The incremental growth philosophy requires three factors to guarantee success and customer satisfaction.
A Well-Thought-Out Master Plan
Creating a viable master plan requires deliberate site selection. Whether building a data center from the ground-up, acquiring a purpose-built facility, or repurposing an existing building, providers must ensure that the site is conducive to phased expansion. Building a center from the ground up can be both costly from a capital and time perspective. Renovating facilities that are infrastructure-rich reduces risk by transforming existing assets vs. engaging in speculative investment. In fact, data center companies are seeing value in reimagining light industrial facilities which have solid foundations, large campuses, high ceiling, open floor plans, accessibility, and were built to withstand weather and natural disaster extremes.
Data center leaders must understand that building or renovating a new facility requires a design plan that will allow for expansion, raised and open floors, and accessibility. Raised and open floors are important for a data center’s cooling capabilities, network infrastructure, and operational and energy efficiency. Open floor space is needed for flexibility when developing mechanical and hardware layouts. The master plan must also include accessibility including easy loading, abundant parking, and convenient location near mass transportation and interstates.
A great example of this philosophy is QTS Chicago located on a 30-acre campus in downtown Chicago. The data center was previously the Chicago Sun Times printing facility, but today offers customers with 24MW of gross power capacity, complete design flexibility with the 2MW block solution, access to 100+ network carriers and partners, and it includes AWS Direct Connect with Amazon Web Service.
This center’s master plan gives it the ability to double in size and features highly efficient systems to cool outside air without contaminants, small and large loading docks and abundant parking, high ceilings, a strong deck, and it’s located in a 500-year floodplain.
Innovative Construction Strategies
The second pillar in incremental growth is innovative construction strategies. In order for the master plan to come alive, a center must build a strong collaborative relationship with developers and contractors that have expertise in data center construction, including architecture, cooling, mechanical, and electrical outlay networking. It is critical to bring all design and construction partners together to vet a design from a holistic perspective and to continually improve the process to better serve the data center’s customers.
QTS Irving in Texas is an excellent example of innovative construction. The center actually was a former semi-conductor facility with incredible features, including a 54-acre campus conveniently located near Dallas-Fort Worth airport, abundant parking, and easy access to I-635 and I-35E. In addition, the facility was originally constructed with 240 million pounds of concrete, support piers that extend 90 ft into bedrock, and built to withstand hurricane and tornado strength winds. Great bones, as they say in real estate.
In working closely with our design and construction partners, the Irving data center now includes the following innovative construction features:
Air-cooled and water-cooled chillers
Makeup water storage
Chilled water storage
Two separate 138kV feeds
On-site redundant substation (140MVA total)
N+1 generator farm
On-site diesel fuel storage with multiple refueling contracts
Carrier-neutral facility with diverse building entrances
Access and redundancy to all regional carrier hotels and long-haul carrier POPs
Convenient in-building access to multiple providers
Mega Data Center Expertise
The third and final pillar is mega data center expertise because they house tens of thousands of servers that are supported by complex connectivity networks and power schemes on an expansive campus. As providers build more advanced and robust portfolios that include data center, colocation, and hybrid cloud services, they need to employ progressive data center operation management strategies that offer state-of-the-art technology and expert personnel.
Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) is another vital aspect of mega data center management and is an invaluable technology that supports incremental growth by integrating IT and facility monitoring protocols, centralizing efforts to optimize efficiency, and providing right-sized strategies to accommodate power, computing, and connectivity needs. DCIM is also proven to reduce costs and increase operational efficiency, and is predicted to increase in importance over the next three years.
INCREMENTAL GROWTH EQUALS A CUSTOMER-CENTRIC APPROACH
Incremental growth is the most sustainable method for ensuring data center customers receive a customized solution. For providers who utilize the incremental growth philosophy, customers experience improved time to value and a partnership approach from the beginning.
There are a few steps that can improve a customer’s time to value. First, eliminating constraints that lead to a delayed delivery of services. Delays can lead to lost financial opportunity and disruption, which can result in the inability to perform key business functions. Providers must also develop a skilled master plan that involves a deep understanding of all customers’ expectations for service delivery and how those expectations impact their overall business strategy.
Building a strong partnership with customers is also an important aspect of the incremental growth philosophy. Providers can do so by providing the opportunity to customize solutions and environments to meet a customer’s needs during every phase and angle of expansion.