A Race To The Finish: The Final Phase of Construction On A Data Center Facility

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Chris Curtis is the co-founder and SVP of Development for Compass Datacenters. We are publishing a series of posts from Chris that will take you inside the complexity of the construction process for data centers. He will explore the ups and downs (and mud and rain) of constructing data center facilities and the creative problem-solving required for the unexpected issues that sometimes arise with every construction process. For more, see Chris’ previous columns on the start of construction, weather woes and the planning process.

CHRIS CURTIS
Compass Datacenters

As I mentioned in my previous entry, we are down to the wire on our delivery schedule. Times like these require decisive action and I am nothing if not decisive. What this means for all you junior developers out there is that you get out from behind your desk and get to the job site fast. You probably will want to pack a little extra clothing because this is going to be your home until the project is done. This is primarily due to the fact that although you can attempt to move things along by being a raving lunatic on the phone, but nothing beats the visceral effect of being a raving lunatic on-site.

Down to the Wire on the Schedule

A tight schedule tends to add a degree of intensity to things. People are focused and the inter-dependencies of various operations become even more critical. I won’t lie to you — tempers can flare. I don’t know what would have happened to that lunch truck driver who ran out of Tater Tots if I hadn’t intervened. When folks are working around the clock to finish the job, the ready availability of complex carbohydrates can make all the difference. Fortunately, I was able to convince the inflamed parties involved that onion rings can be a nice change of pace and the tension level dissipated dramatically.

Exercise in Applied Psychology

At these critical times, a big part of a developer’s job is to know when to use the whip and when to use the carrot. (Before you get the idea that I’m out there verbally abusing some poor helpless electrician, let me say that I use the term “whip” metaphorically.) I’m actually a pretty easy-going guy. But you do have to know when to push the right buttons. It’s really an exercise in applied psychology. For example, when the guy installing the conduit fell behind I didn’t threaten to beat the crap out of him. That would be counterproductive. I did tell him that the electrician who is waiting for him to finish would beat the crap out of him. Since the electrician resembled a building with feet, this proved to be an effective motivator. Conversely, when the painting guys finished early, I bought them all the hot tots they could eat. Sometimes it’s the little things that help get the job done.

Working with the Project and the Customer

One of the most important elements of a developer’s job is being the liaison between the project and the customer. This is especially true in situations when you are coming down to the wire. For some strange reason customers don’t have a lot of interest in visiting the site when you’re putting up walls or adding the DX units to the roof, but once you are within a couple weeks of your completion date — suddenly everybody wants to see what’s going on. People you’ve never seen before start showing up every couple of hours-—“Just thought I show my wife the site”, “I went to high school with this guy and he wanted to see the data center” or “I was a little bored so I’d thought I’d swing by and see how things were going.” When these “drop ins” occur you immediately have to put on your tour guide hat and escort them through the facility and be able to provide them with answers to some very probing questions.

Reassurance is Important

The first thing to remember in these situations is that in most instances the customer is just as worried about things as you. Chances are they are the ones that picked you for this multi-million dollar job so they have as much to lose as you do if you slip your date. Reassurance is the watchword here. If they ask why the data center doesn’t have any doors you calmly reply that the airflow helps expedite the paint drying process. Inquiries as to why the lights aren’t working should be deflected with a detailed, and incomprehensible, discussion about arc flash testing and the lack of PDU’s is merely due to the fact that you’re using a new method of sequencing. Will this alleviate a customer’s fears? Maybe not, but the goal here is to make sure the customer knows that you’re on his side and would never let anything bad happen to them. Which you are, and you never would.

Turning a completed data center over to a customer is a combination of pride and relief for a developer. I know that’s how I felt when we turned the site over to our customer. It also tends to evoke feelings of nostalgia. I thought about all of the council meetings I attended just to get the project started, all the conference calls with architects and contractors, and finally the days spent at the site with mud oozing into my loafers. I can’t say that it was all good times but that’s just part of the job. I hope that you’ve found these diary entries to be a little helpful and enjoyable. As for me, I’m preparing to meet with another planning committee for our next project. A developer’s job is never done.

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