Tom Roberts is President of AFCOM, the leading association supporting the educational and professional development needs of data center professionals around the globe.
Today, you can plug in the words “data center design and build services” into an Internet search engine, and it renders results literally in the millions.
A decade or so ago, however, data center specialists were scarce. Finding an architectural and engineering group that understood the complexities of the data center and spoke our language proved challenging, to say the least.
It was certainly a source of frustration for me and my industry peers. I was director of data center operations for a healthcare group back then, and it became painfully obvious that we had outgrown our second-floor office building location and needed more space and efficiency to accommodate present and future growth.
We approached the project logically, looking at site locations, talking with real estate groups, reviewing utility capabilities and conducting site evaluations. Yet, each time we met with prospective builders and/or designers and brought up our needs for a “hardened” data center with built-in redundancies, N+1 cooling, hot and cold aisles, raised flooring, emergency backups, etc., their eyes glazed over.
Most of them, while completely proficient in building and designing other structures, didn’t fully grasp the concept that data centers must be able to withstand power outages, natural disasters and equipment failure on a 24/7 basis. It took just as much effort to explain the “room to grow” aspect of the project.
Then, during the actual design process, it seemed that regardless of what we discussed in meetings, something different came back in the design plans. An obvious gap in communication and imbalance between demand for, and supply of, data center specialists existed.
Different Ecosystem Today
Thankfully, that changed soon enough. IT gained clout and visibility with the maturity of companies like Yahoo, Facebook and Amazon—all start-ups in 1994-1995. Data centers came into a whole new light and had to step up their games to keep pace with the evolution of computing needs. It often required complete redesigns or building from scratch ... .and the market responded admirably.
The need for businesses to have an online presence to complement brick-and-mortar operations to stay competitive ushered in the era of more data, more applications, more servers, more end users, and it all took more energy and "out-of-the-box" thinking to accomplish.
For example, I didn’t have the multi-million dollar funding required to install dual power feeds for our facilities, so we implemented emergency redundant backup systems instead. It took a lot of meetings and conversations to obtain this understanding. "Back in the day," data centers housed a bunch of old servers that ran at 2-3 kW per rack, taking up a lot of space and were not very efficient. Now, it’s all about consolidation, doing more with less, and on the average generating 8-12 kW per rack and in many cases, much more.
The good news is you won’t have any problem finding companies that not only speak our language, but do it fluently. The challenge is to find one that will work with you, and at the same time, bring fresh ideas to the table. I recommend you zero in on those that not only understand, listen, and contribute, but that fit your culture too—a major factor in the selection process.
Your company is likely one of three types: A process culture defines a company that likes to follow the letter of the law and doesn’t want to bend or break any; a normative culture that has very stringent procedures and very high standards of ethics, and procedures match ethics; or a cross between the two - a collaborative culture - that suggests a higher threshold for creativity and willingness to combine efforts.
So, for example, if you come from a process culture and try to work with a company that just fires out ideas with little regard for getting from A to B to C in that order, your clashing styles will prevent progress and increase frustration. It’s in your best interest to search out companies that match your culture. ... a luxury that should be appreciated and not taken for granted.
It is a great time to be in the data center industry - just think what we will know tomorrow.
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