Author, Ilissa Miller, CEO, iMiller Public Relations and Editor-in-Chief of Data Center POST

In a recent panel discussion at DICE Northeast: Data Center Trends, Opportunities and Dynamics in New York, industry experts from IBM, High Concrete Group, AKF Group and Flexential discussed the various challenges that data center operators face today.  From rising power costs to sustainability goals and future-proofing infrastructure, the conversation covered critical topics impacting the data center industry. Below are key takeaways from the panel, including insights to the strategies being employed to meet time-to-market demands while considering design, power availability, and environmental concerns.

The Power Challenge:

During the discussion, many of the panelists acknowledged that several factors drive power costs up, including power availability, infrastructure, and power types. Power is undoubtedly a significant challenge for data centers, impacting both cost and efficiency. To address this issue, weather plays a crucial role. Weather patterns, such as heavy snowfall or rainfall in the Pacific Northwest, can influence power demand and availability across the western US. For example, drawing natural gas from California during such weather events can cause significant power increases in the region. As weather patterns become more unpredictable, it’s essential to correlate weather data with power requirements to optimize operations and costs.

This isn’t the first time climate change and extreme weather have been a center of topic for data center operators. Participants shared their experiences in dealing with unexpected weather phenomena that could impact data centers. The consensus was that companies now place greater importance on site selection, considering factors like flood maps and resilience to extreme weather conditions. The need to incorporate mitigation plans for various weather scenarios, from hurricanes to extreme rainfall, has become a critical consideration for data center development.

Time-to-Market and Supply Chain Navigation:

Time-to-market is a critical factor in data center deployment, and companies must navigate the supply chain efficiently to meet their demands. In regions with power constraints, such as the Northeast, the availability of land and power significantly impacts the decision-making process. To address this, companies are adopting design-build or design-assist approaches, engaging subcontractors and designers early in the process. By doing so, lead times can be reduced, allowing for more efficient infrastructure development.

In the Northeast, data center planning faces unique challenges, including stringent public policies and fire department regulations. Understanding and complying with these requirements is essential to ensure smooth operations and approvals. Additionally, the high costs of land and power in certain areas of the Northeast call for careful evaluation of data center locations and optimization of existing facilities (retrofitting for the modern-age).

Vertical Design and Future-Proofing for Emerging Applications:

As data center technology evolves, planning for the future becomes more challenging. The emergence of AI and high-density applications requires different infrastructure support, such as liquid cooling and sustainable power solutions. Vertical designs are gaining popularity due to their space-saving benefits, allowing data centers to maximize power density in a smaller footprint. However, vertical design also poses challenges related to floor loads and accommodating various systems required for high-density deployments.

The panel emphasized the increasing importance of sustainability in data center planning. Many companies are committing to becoming carbon-neutral by 2030, which requires careful consideration of sustainable technologies and practices. Future-proofing data centers in the face of evolving technologies and environmental requirements is a complex task. Designing with intent and involving key stakeholders early in the process can help ensure that data centers remain adaptable to future needs while minimizing the need for costly retrofits.

Highlights from Stephen Copeland:

Stephen kicked off the discussion by emphasizing the wide array of data center projects that have emerged in the Northeast. From new constructions to legacy buildings, the region has witnessed a variety of ventures. While some companies initially hesitated due to uncertainty surrounding interest rates and office occupancy, many quickly adapted and redirected their focus towards critical systems data centers. The demand for such facilities remains robust, indicating a positive trajectory for the data center sector. Steven highlighted the resilience of the industry, which continues to thrive despite challenges and uncertainties.

Insights from Jamie Sweigart: New Structures and Versatility

Jamie brought attention to the prevalence of new structures in the Northeast data center market. Many companies prefer to invest in fresh, purpose-built facilities rather than retrofitting existing ones. With the surging demand for data center space, time-to-market becomes a crucial factor. Greenfield builds, though time-consuming, offer the advantage of customization to meet specific requirements. However, Jamie also acknowledged the importance of versatility and how retrofitting existing buildings can serve as a viable alternative, especially in situations where the appropriate infrastructure and capacity are already present.

Ryan Mallory’s Approach: Striking the Right Balance

As demand for data center space reaches unprecedented levels, Ryan highlighted the need for a balanced strategy. While Greenfield edge sites offer potential for growth, their extended development timelines may not always align with the urgency to meet market demands. Consequently, Flexential is actively exploring retrofit opportunities in existing structures. Evaluating factors like floor loads, equipment space, and mechanical yards, Ryan’s team considers all types of opportunities in its pursuit of quick and efficient solutions.

Perspectives from John Hawkins: Lessons from the Past and Future Directions

John drew from his experience in the industry, recalling the “Telx days” when retrofitting existing buildings was common practice. However, the landscape has changed, and companies like IBM have shifted their focus away from retrofits. Nevertheless, he acknowledged the current trend of returning to some aspects of the past. Certain communities are now considering converting vacant buildings, such as former power plants, into data center locations. He emphasized the potential benefits of utilizing existing infrastructure and water resources, making the case for a sustainable and eco-conscious approach.

The panel discussion provided valuable insights into the challenges faced by data center operators today. From climate to power availability, design considerations, sustainability goals, and time-to-market demands – all play critical roles in shaping the future of data centers. By embracing design-build approaches, focusing on sustainability, and planning with future applications in mind, data center operators can navigate these challenges and build resilient and efficient infrastructure for the years ahead.

The DICE Northeast Data Center Summit in New York highlighted the evolving landscape of data centers in the region. The panelists’ diverse perspectives showcased the industry’s adaptability and resilience in the face of changing market dynamics. While Greenfield edge sites remain popular for their customizability, retrofits are making a comeback, especially in areas with existing infrastructure. Moreover, with climate change concerns at the forefront, data center developers are becoming more conscious of sustainable practices and extreme weather preparedness.

As the Northeast data center market continues to grow, it is evident that a balanced approach, embracing both new structures and retrofits, will be crucial for meeting the soaring demand and ensuring a sustainable and efficient future for the industry.