Data Center

4 Key Considerations of a Data Center Design/Build Strategy

I recently joined the Data Center Service Provider (DCSP) team here at Schneider Electric and have been asked to contribute to our blog site. So welcome to my first-ever blog post.

Given that the DCSP team is all about helping data center service providers build reliable and cost-effective data centers, I thought I’d start with a series of blogs that explore four key considerations that go into a data center design/build strategy: cost, quality, risk and speed. This first post will focus on the cost considerations.

In terms of cost, any business investing in a data center is seeking ways to preserve the deployment of capital, reduce the total capital investment and achieve a low total cost of operation. The old thought process was to build a data center facility big enough to accommodate your projected capacity needs over the next 5 to 10 years or more.  This approach requires a large upfront capital investment for a facility that may take years to fully populate, thereby yielding a low return on investment.

Today, a modular and scalable data center design/build approach is taking hold with the goal of just in time delivery of needed data center capacity. A modular and scalable approach refers to the build-out of data center space and MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) capacity in smaller increments.  For example, the master plan for a data center may contemplate a 12MW facility with 120k of white space at full build-out but, the construction of the facility (shell, core and MEP infrastructure) will be delivered in modular increments of 1MW of UPS for every 10,000 square feet of white space.  This type of approach allows you to scale upward in proportion to the end user demand.

The benefits of a modular and scalable design/build approach are many. They include:

  • Preserve capital – just in time delivery of needed space and capacity will delay and preserve capital deployment and increase the net present value of your total capital investment.
  • Reduce annual operating expenses – minimizing the amount of equipment installed proportionate to the current demand will reduce the amount of annual maintenance required.  Additionally, it will allow the equipment to run at full load and operate at its peak efficiency, thereby reducing your annual energy consumption.
  • Prevent stranded capacity – the balance of power and cooling to the white space (watts/s.f.) is challenging. The trend has been to increase the design density in the white space. Often times this density never materializes and results in stranded power and cooling.  Since the MEP infrastructure in a data center can constitute 75% or more of the total construction cost, stranding power and cooling is undesirable. A scalable MEP plant will allow you to build to the density required within the available white space.

From all appearances, deployment in smaller increments is better for the bottom line.  That said, do not throw caution to the wind. There is something to be said about economies of scale.

First, from a construction standpoint, the more space you build at once, the lower the cost of project management and overhead.  From an equipment perspective, larger equipment is generally cheaper on a per/ton or per/megawatt basis than smaller equipment.  Last, and perhaps most important, there are optimal design increments whereby matching the system components (i.e. utility transformers, generators, switchgear and UPS systems) will provide the lowest cost per MW installed cost.  These cost benefits must be weighed against the end user desire to preserve capital and the net present value. Keep in mind the net present value will be largely impacted by the speed of load growth in the data center.

Stay tuned for my next post, which will address the risk considerations of a data center design/build strategy.

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