CAPRE EXCLUSIVE | Mountain West Insiders Discuss Real and Fake Timeframes to Deliver New Data Center Product

DENVER, CO — CAPRE’s inaugural Construction, Design, Engineering Evolution and the Optimization of Hyperscale, Colocation and Enterprise Data Centers in Denver kicked off with a roundtable discussion about the latest and greatest technologies in the data center production world. The first panel of the day, “The Speed of New Construction and New Models: What are Real and Fake Timeframes to Delivering New Product?” featured five panelists from diverse firms, offering first-rate analysis from the field of the most pressing topic at hand — speed to construction.

Hector Diaz, Mission Critical Director, Easter-Owens

Moderator Hector Diaz, Mission Critical Director at Easter-Owens Electric kicked off the panel with some remarks gleaned from his long career in  data center construction. “I’ve been tracking this for many years. So many buzzwords came out about this in the 2012-2013 timeframe. All builds prior to that were stick builds. Each data center was a snowflake,” he recalled. “Tony Wanger of IO used to say that each data center had to look just like your other data centers, or it’d be too difficult to manage them.”

“It’s amazing how we’ve seen the speed of construction accelerate over time. Typically, when you’re talking about building a 2 MW or 10 MW data center, once you know what level of redundancy you’re shooting for, that’s probably going to drive some dollars per kilowatt,” he shared. “I’ve seen that number for stick builds go down from $16 or $17 million per megawatt for a Tier III facility, but that number has been dropping mostly because people have figured out that if they stick to a single design, and prefabricate, and start assembling modules when they’re pouring their concrete, they can accelerate their time to construction. Prefabrication has taken two personas – some companies don’t like the idea of having metal buildings outside of their main building and having to clear snow to get to work. Some other buildings build huge electrical rooms with roll-up garage door openings, and then acquire build-out units that might have switch gear, transfer gear, UPS, batteries, and that really accelerates the build-out.

“Interestingly, I still see some companies going with stick builds. For whatever reason they decide to start from the ground up, design it from scratch, and I can guarantee you they’re building $15 to $18 million per megawatt,” revealed Diaz. “It begs the question as to why you’re doing this, when a colo is doing it for about half of that. So now, what I’d like to do is ask these panelists, to tell us about your recent experience with data center builds. Or if you’re from the real estate side of things, what kinds of things might you be helping out your customer base with?”

The first panelist to offer a response was Greg Vernon, Senior Vice-President at CBRE. “The biggest question is how long the permitting is going to take and how they’re going to get it,” he replied. “That means working with city, state, etc. There are obviously a lot of permits in the process. Working with local government offices in that process is so key. If you don’t do it, there will be delays where you can’t expedite those processes.”

Tom Dobson, Vice-President, Holder Construction Company

Next, Tom Dobson, Vice-President at Holder Construction Company chimed in. “The same equations applies whether it’s pre-fab or stick build. Equipment is going to drive the schedule. If you can determine when the equipment will be on the job site, you can figure out when it will be done,” he shared. “If the equipment is ready to go, you can pour on the work and get it going pretty quickly. They know the equipment, what they want, how it works. The key is having a trusted, reliable design approach that you can trust, keep the same team members involved. Whatever makes your pro forma work, focus those team members on that same goal, and you’ll get what you want.”

Rich Ungar, Head of Data Center Automation, ABB then concurred with Dobson, and then looked to CyrusOne’s recent successful and efficient six month build in Northern Virginia. “That is something a lot of companies are trying to adopt. They have to make the case to tie it all up. From an automation perspective, or from a controls perspective, I think the point of having that team in place, and being able to use that consistent design, is particularly important,” he advised.

“Where we see our customers really trying to push the timelines, they involve us very early in the process, so that we know exactly what’s happening,” shared Ungar. “We get to comment and prepare right away, because the traditional model for controls is leave it to the last minute, and then put tremendous pressure on the vendor not to slip. Sometimes, that doesn’t work so well when the controls vendor hasn’t been involved in reviewing the specs on the equipment up front. When the choice is made early enough to involve a controls vendor, get them involved earlier. You may not be pushing the schedule that much, but at least you’re de-risking the last part of the schedule.”

Finally, Mark S Hohlen, Principal at SUPERSTRUCT made an interesting contribution to this conversation. “Our equipment is considered long-lead, about six months. In our world, that’s not a lot of time,” he laughed. “We’ve had to get something out in a week, and then we’re already behind schedule. We had to take the financial step and commitment to be a part of a team and start putting inventory out. we worked to accomplish that for the client by putting together an inventory. But then you get design changes last minute, or then the client arrives on site and decides they want to tweak something.”

And this is not an isolated incident, stressed Hohlen. “Then the pressure is all on you – because it’s not a repeatable design, and you have to change something in the last minute. Tom had mentioned the importance of a team, and I think that’s absolutely true. when clients start to shop, you lose that loyalty, and it will cost then time and money. Each project isn’t a one-off for us. We want to be involved early in the design discussions, so that we can expedite the schedule as much as possible,” he concluded.

E-mail me your stories,  industry news tips, and press releases.