The design and construction of data centers is a unique market segment for most design consultants and mechanical construction firms. Selecting a system which offers a combination of best in-class energy performance, competitive first cost, scalability for expansion, reliability, and flexibility for future technological changes is emblematic to the industry. The design-build delivery system offers significant advantages to maximize the balance of these characteristics.
Right Sizing of Systems
It is imperative that the sizing of systems for data centers is accurate. The capacities of equipment, sizes of distribution piping/duct, and overall design layout are critical to the operation of the data center. Data center system reliability is of paramount importance and therefore, there is a tendency in the industry to over design systems to multiple layers of redundancy. This extremely conservative approach is costly, unnecessarily increases electrical load (increasing power usage effectiveness), and provides significant difficulties in the system operation. Among other reasons, data centers are not necessarily fully loaded on day one. This requires systems to turn down to accommodate reduced loads and stay within strict environmental operating limits. Over designing systems creates difficulty in system turn down, reducing equipment life, and creating control problems for the space. The design-build approach allows a closely coordinated design with the actual installers. This reduces the need to oversize systems. For example, safety factors become eliminated on fan sizing due to unknown quality of duct installation. The designers know the quality of work installed by the construction and can therefore meticulously design around them.
The design-build approach allows effective scaling of a data center from its day one build through multiple phases. Integrating the builder into the design process provides an intimate understanding of the building construction and operation to the design team. The jobsite foreman understands where to include valves, dampers, and sequences in the design to allow for future expansion without interrupting the operations of previous data center phases. This includes ensuring that future work will not occur within the operating data center environment, over racks, or potentially disturbing customers in a colocation environment. The single point of responsibility of the design-builder forces the team to look more closely at the details of future phases and the inherent contractual mechanisms for design-build force this contiguous process. Simply put, designing for a permit or building for an occupancy certificate is not good enough. Consider the final full build out on day one of the design.
Utilizing a design-build approach in data centers offers advantages over traditional systems because of the methodical approach to the design details and integration of the field team in the design process. Integrate the builders and startup teams in the design process to ensure simplified access to maintenance and to ensure systems are designed for no downtime during routine maintenance. Utilizing knowledge garnered from the field, the design team closely coordinates items such as valve placement, coil access, filter locations, and compressor configurations. Writing sequences of operation with the careful oversight of the startup and commissioning teams helps minimize risk and offering greater reliability during maintenance mitigates any risk of system failures.
The unique approach of design-build allows the construction team to identify costs of work with a greater degree of certainty at an earlier stage. As the builder is part of the design team, design assumptions are more accurate. Owners are not beholden to the market as they are during a typical design-bid-build process. Pricing takes place in real-time and is not necessarily reliant on standard budgeting at specific design milestones. Owners can also utilize this pricing to make value added decisions on the design throughout the process. Design-build removes the unknown and uncertainty associated with costs and allows transparency into the process.
Time to Market
The close integration of the design, coordination, shop drawing, and construction teams provides for a much quicker design process. The team can complete the design only once and the procurement timeframe becomes minimized due to this standard design-bid-build model. Often shop drawings serve as the permit set of documents. This allows the construction teams to immediately mobilize and begin field work upon permit without the hindrance of the BIM coordination process. Upstream, this allows developers and owners additional time to execute land deals without tying up capital investment for an extended period of time. Ultimately, they are then able to turn over the data center space more quickly.
Through a specific design-build approach, owners can achieve practical yet cost-efficient solutions for their customized data center needs. The benefits that a fully integrated design-build team provides, including accountability, cost savings, faster delivery, improved quality, and reduced risk will expand the future use of design-build delivery in the data center market.