In this article in Data Center Dynamics, our Founder & CEO discusses how Augmented Reality will make data centre construction more reliable.
Data centre leaders’ priorities have changed somewhat over recent years, particularly when it comes to the design and construction of their facilities.
We heard from a number of industry experts to learn their thoughts regarding the priorities of the design and build of new facilities.
Tony Jacob, VP of Design and Construction, Digital Realty: “When designing and building a new data centre, our key priorities are safety, delivering on time, to the right quality, on budget, all while minimising any undue impact on the environment or local community.
“Across the data centre industry, it has been common practice to build on brown and greenfield sites – essentially undeveloped land – which can be used to construct a campus to our exact design and specifications. However, we are also looking for ways to repurpose existing buildings, instead of building new – a more sustainable practice.
“We understand that this can take longer as it requires time to find a suitable building that is resilient and large enough to house a data centre, plus the time needed to plan the facility around the restrictions and confines of that particular building. It’s also more expensive: on average, repurposing can cost as much as 20% more at the construction stage than building new. But, when looking at it through an environmental lens, it delivers in value, which is a key priority when ensuring that every data centre we’re building is done in a responsible manner, while also benefitting our customers and our business.
“We also need to think about how we build. Building facilities that leverage the natural, sustainable resources around us – air, wind, sunlight and water – and use them in a way that doesn’t create waste, but is part of a circular system instead, is crucial when considering the lifetime of a facility. Wind and sun can provide the energy needed to keep a data centre hall connected and operating, and across our European portfolio at Interxion, it does – we’re powered 100% by renewable energy. However, doing the same in cooling is more complex, so the need to constantly innovate and find new solutions is important when designing and building new facilities. For example, our Cloud House facility located in London’s Docklands leverages the surrounding dock water to cool the facility before it’s pumped back into the Docklands to ensure nothing is wasted. We also recently switched on our €15 million river cooling solution in Marseille, which uses surrounding river water to cool our data centres located in the dock of Marseille.
“Every site is different, so we can’t expect to repeat our approach to Cloud House and Marseille everywhere; however, with each new data centre, we make it a priority to look at how we can use surrounding resources to run that facility across its lifetime with minimal impact on the environment. It’s a never-ending quest for balancing perfection and pragmatism – working for some of the world’s most innovative customers is a privilege, while very demanding and stimulating at the same time. Nothing stands still in our world and the increased demand we’ve seen over the past two years has certainly altered what our customers expect of us – there’s never a dull moment.”
David Hall, Fellow of Technology and Architecture, Equinix: “Digital Transformation across every industry sector is advancing at significant pace which is stimulating a dramatic increase in demand for digital infrastructure service providers and data centres. In addition, the pandemic has forced many companies to digitise their business models which has further intensified the need to build more and more data centres at strategic global locations.
“To meet this increase in capacity demand and to be able to deliver Edge Computing, data centre designers are increasingly looking at modular construction solutions. Equinix, along with other digital infrastructure companies, has found the ‘composable, brick-based’ method to be a game-changer to the industry, enabling a faster and more flexible approach to data centre design, planning and deployment.
“Traditional data centre builds require an intensive period of planning and are expensive and time-consuming to construct. The ‘brick-based’ model, used by Equinix, is unique in the fact that it strips away the complexity by using just four highly standardised pre-built bricks that are assembled to support particular use cases or locations within the data centre construction.
“The most common brick in the build is the base data hall brick which is used to form the physical hosting infrastructure as well as critical platforms, such as cooling, fire detection and suppression and power distribution. Towards the end of the build, length and width extension bricks deliver the final pieces of the puzzle as they can be deployed in multiples or individually to finetune the ‘white space’ structure.
“This approach also presents an important opportunity in the wake of COP26 to reduce carbon emissions. Equinix has introduced a ‘power’ brick that enables its data centres to be powered by low or carbon free energy sources. They support a deep level of integration between the facility and the electrical grid which is supported by intermittent renewables.
“The ‘modular’ solution is now being adopted across the industry as it radically improves construction efficiency, reduces hosting costs, increases deployment speeds and supports a business’ sustainability targets. As the pre-built bricks are an ‘off the shelf’ solution, there are fewer wasted materials and better utilisation of storage, build space and power usage effectiveness (PUE). In addition, advances in innovative technology can be integrated into the modular design at far greater speeds, enabling a company to outpace and out-innovate its competitors.
“The modular, brick-based approach is already making its mark but will grow in popularity over the next few years. In an accelerating market, the industry is keen to benefit from significantly reduced planning and deployment timeframes, while seeing huge increases in performance and energy efficiency. Equinix’s own first brick-based International Business Exchange (IBX) data centre, BX1, located in Bordeaux, France, is in response to the metro’s expanding e-health industry. It has already proved its value and is now a model of excellence that is being adopted across the global business.”
Richard Spencer, Managing Partner, Dunwoody LLP: “Any new data centre design must focus on its impact on the environment and the community it serves and source and deliver IT power at densities now demanded.
“Data centre leaders are concerned with the impact these facilities have on the environment and incorporating solutions and design which support the long-term goals of achieving net zero emissions in operation as well as in construction, along with satisfying the higher performance requirements resulting from increased power density.
“Data centres must deliver a resilient, energy efficient, secure data processing environment, but they must also connect to the people they serve – they cannot operate in isolation behind large secure boundaries.
“As they become bigger, their profile increases along with their impact on society and the drive to a zero-carbon emitting facility intensifies. The challenge is to find the solution and systems to achieve the net zero goal.
“Within the boundaries of a data centre their obvious emissions and carbon consumers can be addressed by developing Scope 1 activities and Scope 2, principally by procuring a green carbon-free electrical supply.
“Some are achieving their Scope 2 targets by relocating to countries with a large carbon-free electrical source e.g. the Nordics with their infrastructure of hydroelectric power stations. Some by self-generation of carbon-free power or more commonly purchasing a carbon-free service.
“However, there still remains other emissions but this can be reduced or eliminated. Resilient power supplies have historically relied upon diesel as the fuel source for standby generators, hydrogen with hydrogen-driven fuel cells or electrical storage via a phase change product will replace diesel generators – remember batteries are a phase change product.
“Surplus heat – rejected heat to the atmosphere cannot be right if homes are cold and energy costs increase, resulting in fuel poverty for many. This surplus heat can be shared with the community using a fifth-generation ambient heat network.
“With the requirements for higher power densities, the challenge is to obtain the authorised capacity and then address the consequences of increased power consumption and heat generated within the data halls.
“The use of a water-cooled infrastructure in lieu of air could be a solution and this may align with the zero carbon goals.
“What is clear is that there will be a greater focus on data centres and their activities and there will be more transparency in their performance.
“The industry will increase the use of metrics to measure these elements – be it Energy Reuse Factor (ERF) or Renewable Energy Factor (REF) which already exists as part of the EU Standard. These metrics will be published and discussed in the same way.”
David Mitchell, Founder & CEO, XYZ Reality: “As our dependency on data centres grow, leaders in this field require facilities that are efficient, secure and meet the evolutionary demands associated with these critical assets. Those in charge need trusted partners who can deliver resilient infrastructure that can stand the test of time.
“As such, both asset owners and the design and build team strive to ensure facilities are operational as soon as possible, with no issues which will impact performance or affect the environment.
“Building it right, first time has become a non-negotiable objective in the project brief. Any construction errors will lead to significant costs to the contractor through remediation, and to the owner through delays in bringing the facilities online.
“I’ve seen first-hand the strict deadlines that data centre leaders are working towards. So, the construction process needs to be as smooth as possible to avoid knock-on effects to the project’s overall delivery. As we encounter these shorter timeframes to meet the growing demand for data centres, the question many are facing is ‘how can we ensure build success, against the backdrop of project complexity and time constraints?’
“Traditionally, reality capture tools have only been able to identify construction errors after the works have been completed, providing a fragmented inspection of the data centre. It’s a slow, laborious task that prompts an expensive and time-consuming rework programme. Historically a frustrating solution, it’s now becoming avoidable. This is where selecting the right technology plays a vital role.
“Data centre leaders require technology that allows them to proactively identify any errors at the lowest value stage. Engineering-Grade Augmented Reality (AR) is allowing construction teams to visualise 3D hologram models to mm-accuracy, enabling them to penetrate deeper into the build process and correct any potential mistakes before they happen and before the cost has been incurred.
“The evolution of groundbreaking technology, particularly Engineering-Grade AR, is helping to bring data centres online, on time and in (or under) budget. This allows those at the forefront to take a proactive approach, making reality capture solutions obsolete from the construction validation process.
“That’s not all, achieving as green a facility as possible is increasingly being written into the design and build brief as a core aim.
“AR is making significant waste reduction which is being recognised at a carbon reporting level. By building to the as-designed model, construction teams are cutting down on material use and avoiding wasted man hours, helping data centre owners meet their emission targets.
“Ultimately, data centre leaders need to get the best value from their investment. By working with contractors using cutting-edge technology within the construction phase, we can deliver facilities that are efficient, reliable and meet the ever-growing societal and industry demands.”