Complexity of Data Center Construction Projects requires challenging the status quo, site selection example

I met with a friend who has worked in the high tech start-up environment and currently works in a company that has a data center presence, and he is thinking of a career change over to data centers.  We spent a couple of hours discussing many topics, a who's who in the industry, dynamics of how the industry works, and systemic problems in the current ways.

A systemic problem is a problem due to issues inherent in the overall system,[1][2] rather than due to a specific, individual, isolated factor. Contrast with pilot error, user error or mistake.

A change to the structure, organization or policies in that system could alleviate the systemic problem. On an Ishikawa diagram (fishbone diagram) of cause-and-effect links, the source of the problem can be said to be a common cause, rather than a special cause.

My friend showed me some jobs he was thinking of applying for, and some ideas started to gel together on problems the data center industry have.

One, data centers are computers.  Google threw this idea out there.

Google: The Data Center Is the Computer

By Stacey Higginbotham Jun. 15, 2009, 11:47am PDT 1 Comment


Server room and devices

As folks increasingly store and access information online, the data centers powering cloud services need to be managed more like a single computing entity rather than a bunch of servers, according to a Google white paper (Google calls it a mini-book) released today.

The paper lays out the concept of warehouse-scale computers (which we have previously referred to as both web-scale computing and mega data centers), specifically how to build out the infrastructure to support Internet services managed across thousands of servers. Google’s Luiz Barroso, a distinguished engineer, and Urs Hölzle, SVP of operations, both of whom help manage and build out Google’s data center, lay out their definition of WSCs:

Most data center projects are projects where fiefdoms battle for control of budget and resources - facilities, real estate, IT ops, application groups, and various users.

Most projects start with a data center project approval at the executive level and an approval of a budget. Then the real estate group takes control on site selection.  Consultants are hired for the site selection process to figure out the right data center site.  Lots of hours are spent interviewing people making the project more complex and more expensive.

Each group maneuvers to be the owner of a piece, and it sets you down a path without an overall design.

How many site selection companies are thinking like Mike Manos's post on site selection?

Site Selection,Data Center Clustering and their Interaction

July 14, 2010 by mmanos

I have written many times on the importance of the site selection for data centers and its growing importance when one considers the regulatory and legislative efforts underway globally.   Those who make their living in this space know that this is going to have a significant impact on the future landscape of these electronic bit factories.   The on-going long term operational costs over the life of the facility,  their use of natural resources (such as power) and what they house and protect (PII data or Personally Identifiable Information) are even now significantly impacting this process for many large global firms, and is making its way into the real estate community.  This is requiring a series of crash courses in information security, power regulation and rate structures, and other complex issues for many in the Real Estate community.


Elmhurst Electrical Yard

The Generation mix of that area has a large nuclear component which has little to no carbon impact, and generates long term stability in terms of power cost fluctuations.   According to Phil Horstmann, President of Ascent, their is tremendous interest in the site and one of the key draws is the proximity of its nearby neighbor.  In the words of one potential tenant ‘Its like the decision to go to IBM in the 80s.  Its hard to argue against a location where Microsoft or Google has placed one of its facilities.’

How can a data center site be picked without a data center design?  Do you pick a data center design and then figure out sites?  If you have not picked your cooling system design, how do you know the affect of the water supply is and the impact of water on your design.

Tying into the power conversation is that of water.  With the significant drive for economization (whether water based or air-based)  water continues to be a factor.  What many people don’t understand is that in many markets the discharge water is clean to dump into the sewage system and to ‘dirty’ to discharge to retention ponds.  This causes all kinds of potential issues and understanding the underlying water landscape is important.   The size of the metropolitan sewage environments, ability to dig your own well efforts, the local water table and aquifer issues, your intended load and resulting water requirements, how the local county, muncipality, or region views discharge in general and which chemicals and in what quantities is important to think about today.  However, as the use of water increases in terms of its potential environmental scrutiny – water is quickly rising on the site selection radar of many operators and those with long term holds.

The industry standard is you pick a site, spent million dollars plus on site selection consultants, buy a site after a long evaluation period.  Then, the rest of the system never says a word about you picking a bad site.

I get a good laugh whenever people criticize another person's site selection.

One of the ways you can change site selection is to bring in the top data center construction companies to evaluate your site before you make your final selection. "here are the 2 - 3 sites I am looking at to build a data center.  Can you tell me the pros and cons for the sites?"

I got this idea talking to data center construction executive when he said they had won a new construction project and thank god the customer didn't pick the site in another state that was a crappy site.  "Why don't you get involved before a site is selected?"  After more chatting, figured out the site selectors want to close the deal with a site selection process they control.  Bringing in data center construction experts decreases their control and shifts the control to the customer.  This is bad for the commercial real estate process.  We need to remove conflicts on interest by keeping suppliers who would influence the decision process isolated.  BS!!!

If you take the idea to the next step, why not invite the electrical contractors to the site as well.  Electrical systems are the dominant cost in a data center project.  Site characteristics will affect the electrical systems and the costs.  Why not get the electrical contractors input too.  Cooling and water would be easy to add.

Hope this gets you thinking on how to change your site selection process.

A holistic approach thinking of the data center as a computer is better than following the status quo. A process of hiring a bunch of experts who have limited knowledge on how data centers are computers.