How to build a data center in nine months

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A massive 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced every day. Whilst this may be a figure that is hard to fathom for many, it demonstrates exactly how data is now the currency that fuels digital transformation strategies. All of this data however must be managed properly, and that presents businesses with a real challenge. To operate successfully, data center providers must be available, secure and flexible, and the data center community must respond by scaling facilities at the right pace.

This pressure to deliver facilities on demand is sparked by the fact that spending on IT storage has  increased by nearly 25 % in the past four years and is forecast to increase by an additional six per cent by 2019. Unfortunately however, many providers are forced to endure two years of investment with no return in the short term, with the average build time for data centers sitting at 18 to 24 months.

At e-shelter, we decided to tackle this problem head-on by creating our own agile data center construction plan. This meant we have been able to halve the average build time and in fact, build a data center in less than 9 months. This is how we’ve done it…

The demand for cloud storage has rocketed with the UK adoption rate alone already at 88%. In light of this we have taken the agile approach from our IT teams and applied it to building works. This is a method that has not been seen previously in our industry. We have streamlined our construction processes by undertaking all design, procurement and project management from the beginning. As a result, we completed construction and delivery of Building H at our Frankfurt 1 campus, the biggest data center campus in Europe, in 9 months.

No mean feat

The project was not without its challenges. In the initial phase, adverse weather conditions delayed the foundation stages by a full month. Yet we managed to use the delay not only to our advantage, but to our customers’ as well.  We used this time to refine our scheduling and planning process and to speak with contractors directly. All parties involved came to collaborate more closely, finding ways to optimise processes by holding workshops to plan and troubleshoot specific aspects of the build. When the weather improved and core works began in February 2017, the team had already made sufficient progress to start planning final fit-outs. Working partnerships had been established with an approach to optimisation that continued throughout the build.

Evolving from the past

The capacity to collaborate and project manage effectively, and the inclination to plan ahead, proved increasingly important as the build progressed. e-shelter's years of experience operating a construction company within a data center company really came to the fore. The working relationships we have developed with suppliers and construction experts and the great volume of learning achieved over numerous years of construction experience, allowed us to innovate in ways that would have been otherwise impossible.

To give an example, for Building H we used a new construction tool that was designed to promote lean construction management. This meant we approached the build incrementally, addressing sections by type and constructing standardised areas in groups. This enabled us to build all sections of a given type at once, as a 'lot', and then fit them out in consultation with the individual end user, and greatly increased our project agility.

In a similar way, we managed the entire construction of Building H in a responsive manner that flexed over time, according to need. Thus, project management was initially month-by-month, but this evolved into very hands-on, day-by-day management as the build progressed. The construction team met every morning for half an hour to ensure project management and actions were aligned, and that any opportunities for efficiency gains were seized. The team also developed a highly visual system of project tracking using coloured cards, so that a glance was enough to discern which elements had been completed and what was still outstanding.

e-shelter's almost 20 years of construction experience mean we have now honed processes so well, that for Building H we were fitting out the first floor while the floor above was still being built. In other words, the building quite literally took shape from the ground up, with many final fittings in place before the roof was on. Now complete, Building H covers 7,100 square metres, has 17MW power supply and access to more than 350 carriers, as well as cloud and application providers.

Building for the future

Building H may be one of the latest additions to e-shelter's data center family, but it won’t be the last. Plans for new sites in Amsterdam and Frankfurt, as well as secured sites for development in London and Madrid, demonstrate e-shelter’s strategic initiative to expand outside of the DACH region.

Naturally, the speed and efficiency of this expansion has not occurred in a vacuum. It has been  undertaken in response to high global demand for cloud services, colocation, scenario and concept testing and emulation. We must stay agile and keep pace with demand in an ever-changing technological landscape in order to match the increased volumes of data and applications that are migrated to the cloud. This will be achieved by continuing to monitor and enhance our resources, and embracing innovations and new demands.

Building H was built in only 9 months not by chance, but by developing an in-house, individual building design, construction and project management programme (an attribute that could possibly result in e-shelter being unique among comparable firms). This demonstrates e-shelter’s ability to provide data center capacity swiftly, efficiently and in an agile way, and our continued expansion across Europe will bring our services closer to home for a larger customer base. Lastly, it provides additional options for those customers seeking to colocate their data across national borders.

Ulf Achenbach, Director of Construction at e-shelter