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The onset of COVID-19 has elevated society’s digital dependency to an extent never witnessed before. From Amazon to Zoom, organizations that offer seamless, easy-to-use digital services find themselves particularly well suited to meet the needs of a quarantined world. Within a very short and compressed timeframe, companies that rely on data center services had to rethink their core business functions. When asked about his company’s COVID-19 adjustments, Ritch Allison, CEO of Domino’s said, “We've taken 60 years’ worth of standard operating procedures and we've had to rewrite a good many of them in just the last six weeks.” Because many companies can effectively service a stay-at-home nation through data centers, these mission-critical infrastructures are solidifying their importance in a growing telecommuting world.

Whether pizza is as critical as power is debatable. However, one fact remains; digital business transformations to cloud-based services are growing exponentially, and more data centers are needed to process and facilitate the workloads. However, the manner in which many data centers are being constructed in the post-COVID era is shifting to a cautionary phased build-out, fitting the needs and requirements of the customer.

Data Center Construction and Value Engineering

 Companies such as Amazon and Facebook are still moving forward with large data center builds. According to the Washington Business Journal, Amazon will break ground on three data centers totaling approximately 300,000 square feet across 90 acres in Loudoun County, Va. Not to be outdone, in June 2020, Facebook announced its 907,000 square-foot facility DeKalb data center in DeKalb, Ill. But for the other 99% of companies building data centers today, it’s a cautionary, phased build-out with a careful watch on the pipeline. A 451 Research note underscores this statement: “Providers need to reconsider their own build and customer pipelines, which are likely to suffer short-term impacts. Post COVID-19, however, we expect demand will rise as enterprises start factoring pandemic preparedness into future business continuity strategies.”

“Construction phasing” for data center build-outs has been an ever-increasing phrase used. The term refers to breaking the infrastructure components down into separate pieces to form a day-one build-out. For example, being creative in HVAC design configurations (capping air-conditioning and crack units) and reconfiguring them for a day-one build-out versus a ten-year target. This also entails a constant re-evaluation of cost incentives to align construction activities for a today-build scenario.

Targeting increased efficiency without full build-out is the new mantra. It’s a new value engineering approach to reduce the infrastructure such as piping, electrical and fiber optics, which also has the intended results of reducing material costs (copper and aluminum) as well as labor and subcontractor costs. With a target of generating revenue ASAP, existing blueprints are scanned to determine where capping can be performed and minimizing runs at specific junctions, because a full build-out is no longer the target. Other typical day-one options include:

  • Converting air handling units to a main chiller with separate air chillers at preferred locations;
  • Sizing generators for day-one build-out with the ability to “size up” as additional funds become available; and
  • Putting up temporary walls on raised floors to divide the area into different rooms, with the ability to quickly rearrange the walls to conform to future tenant requirements.

Value engineering is not eliminating the scope-of-work, it maximizes the value into separate phases of construction—shifting the critical components of the building sooner, rather than waiting for the construction to be completed.

Phased Construction Is Becoming The Norm

 Today, many customers are requesting a two cost analysis: the phased approach or a full build-out. The two different budgets give them the ability to evaluate whether the phased process is a more viable option, or if performing an end-to-end project is feasible. In this post-COVID era, there is an ever-increasing effort to be as conservative as possible with data center builds. Seeking consultation from a mission-critical facility construction organization who not only understands today’s build challenges but also brings proven methods from phased approaches, will truly bring a new level of value to the entire construction process.

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