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Plug-n-Play Data Centers, Built to Order

Digital Realty Trust (DLR) will soon be packaging its expertise in a new data center design and construction service for enterprise clients.

Digital Realty Trust has been a pioneer in building data centers faster and cheaper through the "industrialization" of data center design. The company, which operates 13 million square feet of data center space, has been able to reduce costs and streamline construction using standard components and repeatable design concepts and leveraging its buying power with suppliers.

Digital Realty (DLR) will soon be packaging its expertise in a new data center design and construction service for enterprise clients. As it enters the professional services business, Digital Realty will compete against tech titans like IBM and HP as well as data center design/build specialists.    

"We're moving toward a plug-and-play data center with components assembled on-site," said Chris Crosby, senior vice president of Digital Realty. "The data center will basically be a product. We truly believe the data center is a commodity."

The new service has not been announced yet, but Crosby outlined Digital Realty's approach last week in a presentation at the Tier1 Datacenter Transformation Summit. The new service will be spearheaded by Michael Manos, who arrives at Digital Realty this week from Microsoft, where he ran the company's data center operations(Mike blogged about his new position this morning) .

"The data center industry is at an inflection point," Crosby said. "Spending tens of millions of dollars building data centers doesn't work in the current corporate environment. Most large enterprises have figured out that building data centers is not their secret sauce."

Not so for Digital Realty, which has refined its development process building more than 1.2 million square feet of space for its Turn-Key Datacenter program, which delivers finished raised-floor technical space for clients including Facebook, Savvis, IBM, EDS, CSC and Yahoo. 

In the Turn-Key program, Digital shoulders the expense of building the data center environment but is able to charge premium rents for the finished space. Customers avoid the capital expense of building the facility themselves, and can be up and running much more quickly than if they built it themselves, a process that takes most enterprises 1 to 2 years. Digital Realty's construction process takes 20 weeks in the U.S. and 26 to 28 weeks in Europe, Crosby said.          

"We're working with a couple clients now where we're providing consulting and development project management," said Digital Realty CEO Michael Foust. "You'll see us doing more of that in the future."

Crosby said Digital Realty's design approach is evolving to what he calls "Industrialization 2.0" combining standard and custom components. "We're now getting a lot closer to this being like going to McDonald's to order a hamburger," he said. "It's going to get as close to made-to-order as possible. Almost none of this has to do with technology. It's all about process engineering."

The process will use computer models to design the facility, and off-site construction of components in pre-fab modules that can be assembled later on site. "You start to get to the point where you allow these pieces to be connected together, as opposed to constructed," he said. The process will be defined by power requirements, he said, with applications and resources grouped by the power density they require.

The key is combining standarization and the ability to customize elements of the process. "We basically have Legos right now," said Crosby, who said data center design can evolve along the same path as Legos, which began life as simple box-like shapes but now come in custom kits that allow enthusiasts to create the Millennium Falcon.

"It doesn't look like a box anymore. But it's still Legos," he said. "We're going for a better box of Legos."


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