...and Hewlett Packard as examples. “You’re hearing more about pairings and partnerships between the hardware guys and contractors. They’re pushing a soup-to-nuts approach around the hardware.” As a result, “It’s hard to tell who you are partnering with and who you’re competing with,” he says. The lines are getting blurred.”

This trend represents both a threat and an opportunity. “The construction product is becoming more integrated with the hardware,” Thompson says. “Clients are demanding it.” This is not a problem for construction firms that can adjust and add value through expertise in building information modeling (BIM), he says. But it also raises the bar higher for new firms attempting to enter into the market.

Sizing the market

The size of the data-center market is relatively small compared to other market sectors, currently in the range of $8 billion to $10 billion per year, estimates Stephen Worn, CTO and managing director for North America of San Francisco-based research firm DatacenterDynamics.

Larger mega data centers and network operations centers are generally considered to be 50,000 sq ft in size and above, with power requirements of more than 10 MW. Prior to the recession, there were on average 10 to 12 these new colossal data centers under construction in the U.S., says Worn. Now he expects there will be an average of four to five mega data centers starting construction in the next 18 months.

These mega projects make up only a small segment of the market, however, says Dan Golding, vice president and research director with Tier1 Research, Bethesda, Md. “These were the ones that grabbled the headlines [such as centers built in recent years by Google or Microsoft], but they are in a class by themselves,” he says.

“We see health-care data-center demand doubling over the next two to four years.”

The vast majority of the market consists of smaller data centers, commissioned by corporate or institutional owners for their own use. These are generally under 10,000 sq ft, says Worn. Prior to the global recession, there were “a couple of $20-billion years” in U.S. data-center construction, he says. The market will recover and expand gradually over time but the recession has changed the landscape in several ways, he says.

“Gone are the days of building 200,000 sq ft of white space and waiting for the network folks to populate it,” says DPR’s Thompson. Clients are looking to match their capital deployment with the ramp-up of their actual need.

One key trend is a modular approach that incorporates 5,000-sq-ft to 50,000-sq-ft “pods” into larger building shells and ties them to existing electrical-mechanical infrastructure without interrupting existing operations.

Another emerging growth area is developer-built data centers that house the operations of a number of corporate or institutional firms leasing space.

Poised to Surge

Another major growth area within telecommunications will be data centers and infrastructure for hospital and health-care organizations. “We’re predicting an explosion in health-care related data centers,” says Stephen Spinazolla, vice president with design firm RTKL, Baltimore. “It’s going to be overwhelming.”

He says the $19.2 billion allocated by the federal government to help the health-care industry transition to electronic medical records is just a fraction of the spending needed to meet new requirements. That funding does not include the infrastructure for handling the increased data demands. Further, EMR is only a small percentage of the data loads hospitals and insurers will require, says Spinazolla. “We see health-care data-center demand doubling over the next two to four years,” he says.

“Larger health-care providers are ahead on this, but there are so many smaller regional hospitals that require the infrastructure to implement electronic medical records that we believe this will be a large growth sector,” says DPR’s Thompson.

DataCenter Dynamics’ Worn agrees, but questions where the funding will come from. “Health care is the next Holy Grail; it’s huge,” he says. “But the funding is just not there.” Health-care systems are already strapped for cash, and funding for data centers can be a difficult process, he says.

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