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Data centre pre-construction – The devil is in the detail

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By Jon Healy, Operations Director at Keysource

Having a detailed pre-construction phase undertaken before starting the design and build or upgrade of a data centre facility has a number of major benefits, however many organisations choose to sidestep this part of the process. In my experience this is a false economy that can often result in, at best, a lack of consistency of supplier responses and a loss of control by the client; and at worst significant additional costs and a major impact to project delivery, especially within live environments.

At Keysource we are trusted in the sector to provide a full range of services to support the full lifecycle of a project from consulting (including pre-construction services), through to project delivery and on-going management. As a result, we see this issue from both sides and we are often cautious about projects in the sector which choose not to have the security and guidance of a ‘pre-construction’ phase.

One of the main challenges is that some organisations rely on the companies tendering for the work to undertake this as part of their bid. Whilst some are able to do this it means that, from the start, it is highly likely that there will be differing views on how to achieve a certain end result. Let’s remember that the cost of this effort will be incurred by the customer as part of the project anyway.

Companies tendering are having to ‘second guess’ at the importance of the key drivers of the project such as resilience, sustainability and futureproofing. There may be a view that this creates a platform for innovation for the supply chain, not “constrained” by prescriptive documentation. However given the typical competitive nature of these projects and factor in the pressures on margins in our sector then there is also a real danger to this approach.

Our experience is that a good pre-construction allows clients to look at the big picture rather than just the specific project addressing issues such as how this will fit in my overall business/IT strategy. It also ensures an increased buy in from all customer stakeholders and may well have some real value to add. It also means that any risks can be addressed early on. With a formal plan in place that includes a robust design, detailed cost schedules and delivery plan there is little to no need for any member of the team to second guess during decision making processes. Ultimately this puts the client firmly in control of what they want.

A good example of this is a recent pre construction project we have just completed for Datum Data Centres, the leading provider of data centre and colocation services,  for the first-floor data centre construction at its site on the Cody Technology Park, Farnborough. This initial service enabled Datum to develop a detailed specification and required delivery methodology for the construction phase.

We started the project by undertaking a needs analysis with Datum which established a detailed brief and performance specification for stakeholder agreement and senior level approval. The next stage was to develop concept solutions to meet the brief including associated commercial, technical and delivery related considerations and identifying risk. Finally, we developed the preferred design, construction phase plan and commercial schedules.

Importantly this preconstruction service evaluated different approaches to deliver the required performance specification giving Datum the ability to mitigate risk associated with the project whilst having the flexibility to make commercial decisions through the process.

As with most data centre construction projects, the programme was a key driver and therefore this approach allowed us to sequence critical path activities such as completing independent surveys, early procurement and team mobilisation to optimise the delivery programme.

Datum have been a long standing customer and over time have become convinced of the benefits of the preconstruction phase and Dominic Phillips, Managing Director at Datum recently commented: “Keysource have completed a range of projects for us including a number of upgrades and fit outs to meet the needs of both our new and existing customers. They have shown us that having a pre-construction phase for these projects is extremely valuable in helping us to achieve the right result that is futureproof and delivers our key objectives of resilience and sustainability.”

They, like us, know that the devil is in the detail.

Is the search for data centre talent a threat, asks BCS

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

Continuing unprecedented growth in the datacentre sector is centre may be at risk due to increasing concerns around scarce resource and rising labour costs.

That’s according to the latest industry survey from Business Critical Solutions (BCS), a specialist professional services provider to the international digital infrastructure industry.

The Winter Report 2020, now in its 11th year, is undertaken by independent research house IX Consulting, who capture the views of over 300 senior datacentre professionals across Europe, including owners, operators, developers, consultants and end users. It is commissioned by BCS, the specialist services provider to the digital infrastructure industry.

Just over two-thirds of respondents believe that the next year will see an increase in demand, up on the 55% from our previous summer survey. This is supported by over 90% of developers and investor respondents stating they expect to see a further expansion in their data centre portfolio over the coming year.

However, concerns are being raised by many Design Engineering and Construction (DEC) respondents around general shortages amongst design, construction and operational professionals with four-fifths expressing resourcing concerns. DEC respondents identified build professionals as being subject to the most serious shortages – 82% stated this view compared with 78% for design professionals and 77% for operational functionality of data centres.

When asked to rank the impact of this our respondents highlighted the increased workload placed on their existing staff (96%),  rising operating/labour costs (92%) and over 80% indicating that this has led to an increase in the use of outsourcing options over the past 12 months. The increased workload for existing staff had in turn led to problems in resourcing existing work, with just over 70% stating that they had experienced difficulties in meeting deadlines or client objectives.

James Hart, CEO at BCS (Business Critical Solutions), said: “At BCS we are currently doing the round of careers fairs looking for candidates for next year’s graduate and apprenticeship scheme. When we are talking to these young people we often find that they either haven’t even considered our sector and/or they have misconceived ideas about what this career path involves. We can address this by going into universities, colleges and schools telling STEM graduates about the data centre industry and how great it is. Without action, this these issues will  become more acute, so the rallying cry for 2020 is that the sector is an exciting place to be and we have to get out there and spread the word!”

Skills shortage and 5G fears at European data centres

150 150 Stuart O'Brien

Continuing unprecedented demand for new datacentres, fears around the shortage of skilled professionals, concerns about the future disruption of 5G, and the limited impact of Brexit are some of the key findings from the latest industry survey from Business Critical Solutions (BCS).

The Summer Report, now in its 10th year, is undertaken by independent research house IX Consulting, who capture the views of over 300 senior datacentre professionals across Europe, including owners, operators, developers, consultants and end users. It is commissioned by BCS, a specialist services provider to the digital infrastructure industry. 

The report highlights the rising demand for datacentres with almost two thirds of users exceeding 80% of their capacity today, 70% having increased capacity in the last six months and almost 60% planning increase capacity next year.

This demand is currently being driven by cloud computing with over three quarters of respondents identifying 5G and Artificial Intelligence (AI) as disruptors for the future.

With industry predictions that edge computing will have 10 times the impact of cloud computing in the future, half of respondents believe it will be the biggest driver of new datacentres.

However, the survey found that the market remains confident that supply can be maintained, with over 90% of developers stating they have expanded their datacentre portfolio in the last six months.

With regards to supply, there are concerns that a shortage of sufficiently qualified professionals at the design and build stages will cause a bottle neck, with 64% of datacentre users and experts believing there is a lack of skilled design resource in the UK. AI and Machine Learning may help to mitigate these issues with nearly two thirds of respondents confident that datacentres will utilise these to simplify operations and drive efficiency.

The political uncertainty around Brexit continues to impact the sector with 78% of respondents believing that it will create an increase in demand for UK-based datacentres. However, the overall feeling was that the fundamentals underpinning the demand for datacentre space, such as the continued proliferation of technology-led services, outweighs these concerns and the European datacentre market will overcome any difficulties that occur.

Commenting on the report, James Hart, CEO at BCS, said: “As always this report makes for fascinating reading and I was encouraged by the overwhelming positive sentiment to forecast growth and the limited impact of Brexit. The fact that half of our respondents believe that edge computing will be the biggest driver of new datacentres tallies with our own convictions. We believe that the edge of the network will continue to be at the epicentre of innovation in the datacentre space and we are seeing a strong increase in the number of clients coming to us for help with the development of their edge strategy and rollouts.”

The full report can be downloaded here.

Image by Jorge Guillen from Pixabay