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November 17, 2020

DataBank’s Data Center Evolved Construction Model

Building a new data center is an expensive and complex undertaking. The decisions that are made early on can have a huge impact on the performance, scalability, and cost of operating the facility, all of which impact the customer experience.

At DataBank, our construction effort is led by Danny Allen, VP of Mission Critical and Building Infrastructure, and Craig McGahey, VP Construction. Danny and his team set all the technical specifications for our new data centers and manage their construction accordingly. This includes power and cooling systems as well as collaborating on building management systems, fiber entrances, and security for the buildings with other internal departments.

Over many years of managing both add-ons, upgrade, and greenfield data center projects, his team has honed in on a design, planning, and construction methodology that is at the heart of our “Data Center Evolved” promise. In particular, their model focuses on two key objectives: 1) reducing the delivery time on any construction project and 2) keeping construction costs down while maintaining the highest possible quality.

Here is a closer look at a few of the ways they’ve been meeting both objectives.

Faster Delivery / Improved Operations

The construction standards developed by DataBank are used is all builds and reduce overall delivery time in three ways:

  • Ready-Made Design Packages – Rather than doing a new design for every build we have an electrical and mechanical (cooling) design that is ready to go at any time and can be used repeatedly in any market. This alone can save anywhere from three to six months in the planning process.
  • Continuous Improvement – Utilizing the same design allows us to address issues that arise in one building, and address them proactively in the next. This turns our design process into an ongoing improvement initiative, allowing us to get better with every build and encoding the lessons learned into our design packages to maintain organization knowledge.
  • Consistency of Operations & Knowledge – Leveraging a common design and construction process also drives consistency across the platform, allowing for faster and easier training of facility operations staff and a more rapid startup after construction completes. This also makes ongoing operations more efficient because if a facility technician in one market is needed to help cover in another, they will be familiar with the design and can hit the ground running.

Lower Build Costs

The DataBank team has also found a number of ways to reduce costs while maintaining superior quality. This has resulted from several modifications to our design, equipment, and construction methods.

  • Optimal Data Hall Sizing – Historically, we have built our data halls at 10k square feet. When looking at power densities and equipment sizing, we found that a better and more efficient fit for the electrical systems was to go to 15K square feet halls.
  • Right-Sizing Power and Cooling Equipment – In many recent facilities like SLC5 and DFW3, DataBank installed 1.5MW power blocks comprised of two 750KW UPS systems. While this configuration gave us the power density we needed, it also proved costlier than installing a single 1.5MW UPS, a change we have made in our designs for all future builds. This simple change cuts roughly in half many construction-related costs including, circuit breakers, maintenance contracts, installation manhours, and programming and hardware to monitor Building Management System (BMS) points. It’s important to note that we design this electrical topology in what’s called a “block redundant” scheme where a number of live “blocks” of power can switch to a reserve by means of a static switch. In most cases, we will install 4 blocks, with 3 live and one as reserve or backup. Mechanically, we are using a closed-loop air-cooled chiller plant with economization. This gives us the flexibility to meet high-density customer requirements while minimizing water use. This combination of electrical and mechanical systems results in an annualized PUE of less than 1.3.
  • Modified Construction Methods – Labor is one of the most expensive elements of a construction project. DataBank continuously measures and evaluates this element of each project and looks for ways to make the installation of equipment easier and faster. One example is the cable conduit. Historically, data centers have put all their electrical wires in conduit. While conduit offers the protection needed in critical infrastructure, it’s very labor-intensive, requires conduit benders and other specialized tools, and takes more time and effort to install. DataBank’s construction teams concluded that we could use armored MC Cable instead, providing the same basic level of protection we have with conduit while vastly simplifying construction. Unlike conduit, MC Cable can literally be rolled out on the floor, anchored down, and terminated 40% faster than installing conduit. That’s a 40% reduction in the amount of labor and no specialized tools are required thus saving time and costs that can be passed along to customers.

These are just a few of the ways DataBank’s construction teams work continuously working behind the scenes to improve the data center experience for our customers.

That’s the Data Center Evolved.