Location, Location, Location: For High-Growth Companies, Why Space Planning Matters

Spring is garden planning season. But in data centers, where service providers are under pressure to deliver more and faster facilities with exceptional flexibility, landscape planning is constant. Greenfield? Brownfield? The fine points of agile expansion planning can leave even the strongest colocation partners in the weeds.

According to JLL, some major cloud providers are anticipating the need to triple their infrastructure by 2020. From the customer’s perspective, it’s fair to consider growing the data center’s physical environment as the provider’s responsibility. But when you’re evaluating the relative capabilities of colocation partners to meet your changing needs, the fact is that the best companies will have already pressure-tested their expansion capacity by knuckling down on greenfield and brownfield strategic planning, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of both.

For example, data centers are often found in industrial complexes, surrounded by abandoned factories or empty strip malls or department stores that have been ghosted for years. Brownfield developments can breathe life into these kinds of builds, ostensibly with efficiency. They have scale; water, hydro and roads are already in place, and natural security features like trees and ditches have been long established.

But there could be large windows and high ceilings that interfere with cooling capabilities. There can be the presence of hazardous substances that might have been left behind by the previous tenants, antiquated fire and building codes, and structure and service challenges related to the age of the site.

Instead, a greenfield build could make more sense. Starting from scratch provides maximum design flexibility to meet both current and future project requirements. Environmental sustainability can be a motivating factor in an industry making ‘green’ commitments, and it may allow for a high-profile branding opportunity.

But here too, there are potential obstacles. Greenfield sites can have additional development costs like headworks for sewer and water; zoning approvals can take time; and demand could limit the number of industrial sites available in the area to those with disadvantages like slope or ground conditions.

Another consideration is cost. It varies by geography but as a rule, the momentum of our industry shows up in supply and demand. For example, per JLL, land prices in Santa Clara, the data center capital of California, are moving past US$100 per square foot. Also, in the Chicago Area: “Land prices in key submarkets are shooting up, as industrial demand surges in the suburban corridors.”

The point is this: expanding a data center requires the agility to build, grow and deploy quickly. Structure and power – not to mention a skilled talent pool – aren’t available at the drop of a hat. Industries like content providers, video game providers and streaming services that stand to grow fast are looking to put down roots to future-proof their business. Customers predicting rapid growth can recognize a successful data center operation in its succession plan of spaces.

In 2016, a large client new to Canada required increased capacity to house its IT infrastructure. ROOT Data Center went from a brownfield property to a 175,000 square-foot, SLA compliant facility with a 20 MW power capacity, in an unprecedented six months. We also quintupled our team in less than four months to support the expansion. That was our second data hall. Today, we’re raising and populating our third and our fourth.

 Are you asking the right questions for your growing business? For more information on evaluating your data center’s ability to scale, download ROOT Data Center’s Power, Real Estate and Capability: Evaluating Your Data Center’s Expansion Capacity