Data Center Construction Trends: Build Fast, Build Smart

Ahead of DCW’s Data Center Build summit this month, industry experts share their thoughts on what to expect from the high-growth construction space.

Sandra MacGregor, Contributor

April 3, 2024

7 Min Read
a set of construction cranes against the sunset

Driven by the ever-increasing demand for data processing and storage, the data center construction industry is undergoing a monumental shift. As digital technologies like AI, IoT, and cloud computing proliferate, data centers are adapting to meet the evolving needs of a data-hungry world.

Key issues impacting the data center construction space will take center stage at the Data Center Build summit this month. Running as part of the 2024 Data Center World conference and expo in Washington, DC, the two-day construction and design summit will bring together operators, decision-makers, and industry experts to explore the challenges and opportunities impacting the sector.

Ahead of the event, we spoke with industry experts to set the scene by laying out the top trends they expect to take place in the data center construction space this year.

Speed, Prefabrication, and Creativity

According to Ron Vokoun, Director of National Market Development at Everus Construction Group and chair of Data Center Build, one of the most significant trends in data center construction in 2024 is the emphasis on getting things done quickly and efficiently.

“Data center construction is all about speed in this labor-constrained market,” Vokoun tells Data Center Knowledge. “Any and all ideas that can increase throughput on the construction site without requiring more labor will be given consideration.”

Related:Key Trends and Technologies Impacting Data Centers in 2024 and Beyond

This need for speed has led to a focus on prefabrication. The 2024 AFCOM State of the Data Center Report notes that: “The hybrid approach, a mix of traditional building and prefabricated modules, appears to be the most common approach to new data center builds over the next three years.”

“Modular and prefabrication are not new concepts, but the data center industry was slow to fully adopt them,” Vokoun explained. “Due to scalability, a hybrid approach will rule the day for hyperscale data centers. Over the last several years, prefabricated electrical and mechanical assemblies have gained in popularity.”

When it comes to faster and more efficient construction, flexibility and creativity are key, according to Tony Qorri, vice president of construction at DataBank. “Approaches to stacking equipment, modularity, and prefabrication have all got to continue to evolve. We’ve got to build a lot of flexibility into our data center designs. The need for higher workloads and higher densities dictate the change in our design, and not solely construction techniques, but starting at the very beginning of designs when you’re just putting pen to paper. That’s when you’ve got to be creative. We got to get more creative when it comes to getting more power into a building.”

Related:Data Center Efficiency Will Overcome AI-Fueled Build-Out Challenges

Bill Kleyman, program chair for Data Center World and the author of AFCOM’s State of the Data Center Report, echoes Qorri’s emphasis on the need for flexibility and innovation.

“The reality is pretty straightforward: we can’t build data centers the same way we used to. The good news is that there are a lot of innovative leaders. A great example is Compass Data Centers. While visiting their Red Oaks, Texas, construction site, I got the chance to see a 400 MW data center build. However, there was something very special here in that these buildings were being constructed as 40 MW prefabricated halls. The really cool part here is that each 40 MW hall is 70% prefabricated, and much of the batch processing was being done directly on-site. This construction method is extraordinary in the sense that you are bringing up 10s of megawatts far faster than you could ever before.”

The Rise of AI and High-Density Computing

The AI revolution is another driving force behind the evolution of data center construction. The substantial computational power demands from LLMs and AI-powered applications are encouraging the development of a new generation of high-density computing environments.

“As AI requirements grow, data center operators must adapt their infrastructure to accommodate high power-density server clusters,” Vokoun said.

The construction tech sector is attracting significant investment, with AI playing an increasingly important role in project scheduling, resource allocation, site safety monitoring, and data-driven decision-making. “AI adoption in construction is still evolving, and the potential benefits are significant,” the Everus director explained. “As technology advances and challenges like data integration and talent development are addressed, AI is likely to play an increasingly important role in shaping the future of the construction industry.”

Kleyman likewise underscores AI’s pivotal role in the industry and attributes the remarkable pace of digital infrastructure acceleration and the adoption of techniques like prefabricated electrical and mechanical assemblies – mainly to generative AI. “The pace of acceleration in digital infrastructure has been quite extraordinary, and all of it is being led by the 500-pound GPT-generated gorilla in the room: Generative AI,” he said. “In our AFCOM report, most respondents (56%) plan to deploy AI-capable solutions in their data centers, most commonly to support new generative AI use cases (43%).”

“New data centers will need to be built from the ground up (rather than retrofitted) to be AI-ready, as the infrastructure has unique cooling and power requirements,” Dell’Oro Group analyst Baron Fung told Data Center Knowledge. “We expect new data center space will need to be added for years to come. Already, the hyperscale cloud and colocation service providers are in a race to build newer and more facilities globally.”

Renewable Energy and Cooling Concerns

The significance of sustainability and integrating renewable energy sources is growing in the construction of data centers, particularly as the demands of AI continue to escalate. The 2024 State of the Data Center Report reveals that over 73% of respondents plan to utilize renewable energy, with solar (59%) and wind (28%) being the most popular choices. "For the hyperscale data center operators, sustainability and renewable energy have been table stakes for years now," Vokoun states. "The hyperscalers will need to double down on renewable energy and sustainability due to the increased densities associated with AI."

Vokoun’s comments came as John Pettigrew, head of the UK’s national grid, said electricity demand from the country’s data centers will jump sixfold over the next 10 years.

“Future growth in foundational technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing will mean larger-scale, energy-intensive computing infrastructure,” Pettigrew said during a conference in Oxford last month.

Data centers face escalating challenges in managing power and improving energy efficiently, Qorri said sustainability would remain a key trend through 2024. “I think in the next several years, we’re going to see a lot more evolution and focus on how to be more sustainable at data centers,” he said. “There’s talk of things like solar wind, small nuclear reactors, and hydrogen fuel cells. Finding other sources of power has become a serious issue for the industry.”

Kleyman added: “Just as quickly as generative AI has taken the market, there have been new conversations around power sources that have been around for quite some time, specifically nuclear energy. Between this year and last year, per the AFCOM State of the Data Center report, respondents who have stated that they will utilize or at the very least look at nuclear energy more than doubled to almost 1/4 of respondents (21%, up from 10% last year).

“This year, at the AFCOM Data Center World event, Dr Kathryn Huff, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at the US Department of Energy, will explore the dynamic changes in clean energy usage and policy that are reshaping our world. She will delve into the critical role of nuclear technologies in bolstering energy grids, providing a stable and efficient power source that complements intermittent renewables like solar and wind. A highlight of her talk will be the intersection of nuclear energy with digital infrastructure.”

Cool Runnings

The recent AFCOM report also highlighted data center operators’ increased investment in advanced cooling systems, most notably liquid cooling.

According to Kleyman, this is expected to remain a focal point of discussion and development in the data center design space over the coming months. “What feels like almost overnight, conversations around liquid cooling, single-phase and two-phase liquid cooling solutions, direct-to-chip liquid cooling solutions, and even rear-door heat exchangers have become commonplace,” he said.

Vokoun agrees that cooling is a key concern. “I expect to continue to see innovation in data center cooling technology,” he noted. “With each successive iteration of AI chips, densities will continue to ramp up well past the capabilities of air cooling. Liquid cooling, in all of its many forms, will become commonplace in data centers. My personal opinion is that liquid to the chip will become the dominant technology, but time will tell.”

Data Center Build runs from April 17-18. The two-day construction and design summit is part of the wider Data Center World expo and conference, which takes place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, on April 15-18. Visit the Data Center World website for more details.

About the Author(s)

Sandra MacGregor


Sandra MacGregor is a Canadian writer with a keen interest in technology, travel, and finance. Her fascination with tech stems from its transformative power and its role in shaping our future. Sandra's diverse background includes a law degree, which has honed her analytical skills and deepened her appreciation for the complexities of the digital world.

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