Overcoming the next set of challenges for data centre construction

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Throughout 2020, the data centre sector has played a crucial role in supporting business and mission critical applications across many sectors. Indeed many vendors, construction organisations and operators within the sector faced an unprecedented increase in demand throughout 2020 as a result of CIO’s accelerating strategies to move on-premise workloads to the cloud, digitalization, and remote working due to the pandemic.

In November last year, I was delighted to be joined by experts from Kao Data, Bouygues Energies & Services and Red Engineering at Datacenter Dynamics Europe, where we hosted a panel discussion on the next set of challenges for data centre construction in Europe. Together, we addressed the speed at which construction is moving, the challenges each facet of the sector faces – from data centre design, to supply chain and access to resources – and the importance of flexibility.

The size and speed of the data centre market

With CBRE predicting that new data centre supply will reach around 400MW across the FLAP markets by 2022, demand for capacity is certainly at an all time high. Both the growth and consumption of data shows no sign of slowing and now many stakeholders within the sector must be poised, ready to support customers through what has been, and continues to be an unpredictable period.

Today, it’s no secret that cloud service providers have driven market growth exponentially and many are developing significant campuses between 80-100MW – each with multiple buildings across a single site. During the discussion, Red Engineering Director, Andy Sykes shared that, “such demand is driving a massive requirement for site selection, due diligence and design services, and many colocation operators are doing all they can to cater for hyperscale needs.”

This was a point echoed by Kao Data CTO Gérard Thibault, who said that the organization has designed its campus to meet customer demands for bespoke facilities, space to scale and access to both sustainable, resilient power, with unmatched cloud and connectivity capabilities.

Accelerated customer demand has also impacted timescales for projects, with many businesses stating tighter deadlines. Dan Mace, Executive VP for Data Centres at Bouygues Energies & Services stated that the company had needed to turn 9MW projects around in seven months, yet it’s difficult to plan for such a tsunami because you don’t know exactly when it’s going to hit.

Therefore, looking beyond the pandemic and the changes it has driven, it is imperative that companies within the sector continue to collaborate openly, focusing on what is needed by customers and when, to devise a plan which is sustainable, on budget and on time.

Challenges surfaced for resource restraints

Meeting tight deadlines can often have implications for resource availability. Indeed many of the panelists stated that it’s crucial to have the right resources available at the right time – especially as due to the speed, innovation and demand from hyperscalers, the way in which data centres are designed and deployed is changing.

“Bouygues Energies & Services continue to look at different sectors for additional resources,” said Dan Mace, “but identifying them can take months – adding delays to the completion date. This in turn not only puts pressure on speed, but also cost, which requires organizations to work closely with customers to innovate existing architectures.”

One of the findings was that a number of organisations are transitioning their designs from stick-built facilities into prefabricated solutions, which utilise pre-integrated plant, power, cooling and IT infrastructure. By taking this approach operators can reduce much of the complexities of on-site work, deploying new capacity on time, on demand and at speed, another point echoed by Kao Data.

“With so many unknowns, data centre designs need to be flexible so that colocation providers can quickly support customers as demand increases,” continued Gérard Thibault. “However, this requires a ‘balance between speed, cost and speculation’, and means that the end-user must be involved from both the design and concept stage to achieve true balance and an optimal solution.”

Conscientious approach with supply chain

Growing demands from customers in additions to the constraints and considerations driven by the Coronavirus pandemic means that organisations need to be conscientious with their approach – both monitoring the current situation, and planning ahead will be key to finding success in 2021. If we aim to create transparency between all stakeholders, creating a sustainable and resilient supply chain, we can establish a number of foundational building blocks to meet accelerated demand.

One of course cannot predict every eventuality, and during the panel Andy Sykes stated that, “many organizations are now putting contracts in place with a pandemic clause, to try and mitigate risks in the supply chain.” As such, the supply chain often needs to scale up, which takes time and continued investment in relationships with trusted partners or suppliers, ensuring continuity and minimal impact when challenges arise.

“Any delay in individual components can cause a ripple effect across projects,” continued Dan Mace. “However, by putting clauses in place, it shows contractors are being proactive and looking to minimize the long-term effects of the pandemic. With the challenges posed by increased demand and timeframes, we need to look at flexibility alongside innovation and collaboration, to build solid foundations.”

What’s next for data centre construction?

While 2020 has brought with it many challenges for data centre construction it has also created new ways of working and identified emerging opportunities to work ever more closely with customers. At Schneider Electric, for example, we’ve seen a spike in discussions around prefabricated systems, sustainability, digitalization strategies, remote monitoring and modernising existing facilities.

New technologies have also played a crucial role, a point made during the session by Gérard Thibault, who said, “At Kao Data, we’ve seen greater interest and adoption of liquid-cooled equipment, which has helped to meet increased demands for higher densities, especially in HPC where many customers now want to squeeze more power, storage and processing into a smaller space.”

Sustainability considerations have also gained prominence across all levels of the sector – especially in terms of construction. With so many hyperscalers and colocation organisations driving green initiatives sustainability has become and will continue to play a crucial role in the industry.

While there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to overcome the challenges faced by the sector, the panel discussion highlighted three elements that can help. Firstly open communication with all stakeholders; secondly greater flexibility to manage expectations and timescales; and thirdly, sustainable and resource efficient data centre designs to reduce carbon emissions. With closer collaboration, today we have a clear strategy to support data centre construction, something, which I believe, bodes well for the future.

Listen to our full panel discussion here, Building faster and bigger – what are the next set of challenges for data centre construction?

Featured Speakers

Gerard Thibault

Chief Technical Officer, Kao Data

Kao Data develop and operate advanced data centres for high performance computing. Inspired by hyperscale and engineered for the cloud, AI and enterprise – they underpin the UK’s innovation corridor with optimised and world class digital infrastructure.

As Kao Data Chief Technical Officer, Gerard is an innovative Data Centre Technical specialist bringing over 22 years specific DC sector experience bringing a laser focused R&D and design influence gained from developing over $850 of data centre real estate over upwards of 200MW of capacity with the highest energy efficiency performance.


Daniel Mace

Executive Vice President for Data Centres, Bouygues Energies & Services

As Executive Vice President for Data Centres at Bouygues Energies & Services, Dan is responsible for the development of new opportunities, evolving the build technique and overall solutions portfolio in response to market and technology trends, while optimising the company’s position as a leader in the market. Dan also provides engineering and operational support to optimise the company’s technical solution and delivery strategy across Europe.

Working in a number of sectors, initially the Pharmaceutical and power generation markets, Dan has established a vast experience in electrical engineering, testing and commissioning, project management through to operational handover. For over a decade Dan has focused specifically on the Data Centre market where he has excelled and developed the design, delivery and commissioning expertise gained over multiple state of the art Data Centre facilities from conception to completion.

Dan is forward thinking with an innovative mind-set that drives his ambition to do better. He developed a simple-to-use pre-fabricated modular solution, “building blocks” to enable the fast deployment of Data Centre facilities and to keep pace with the growing demand from the market. The solution has the capability to be applied to new and existing sites.


Andy Sykes

Director, RED

Andy has over 30 years of experience in the engineering and construction industry, successfully delivering projects throughout EMEA and APAC.

Initially trained in petrochemical engineering, Andy then moved into construction over 30 years ago, spending the first 15 years as a Design Engineer, transitioning into the field of project management, where he has spent over 15 years.

Andy specialises in framework management and projects requiring strong technical leadership. In particular projects with a high degree of engineering dependency such as data centres. His career in design prior to project management, brings a unique insight into how design teams work and is further complimented by his engineering experience.

A certified Prince2 Practitioner and a Director of RED, Andy takes a management role in the day to day project management of multi-disciplinary technology projects, including the development and coordination of engineering project services largely based in London but supporting these activities throughout the business and its geographies.


Matthew Baynes

Colocation & Telco Segment Director, Schneider Electric

Matthew Baynes serves as the Datacentre Strategy & Business Development Director, UK&I for Schneider Electric.  Matthew focuses on strategic customer & industry relationships and supports the development of Schneider Electric’s datacentre business. Matthew also leads Schneider strategic datacentre projects and the development of new customer acquisition future business opportunities. Matthew also supports thought leadership in the market, and working with the Schneider solutions teams, helps shape the business strategy and alignment to market trends in the UK&I. Matthew has over 15 years experience within the IT and manufacturing industries working within the hardware, software and services categories.

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  • Thanks for posting this blog. It is really helpful and knowledgeable about Data Center Services.

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