As the data-center market continues to grow at what experts say is an above-average rate, two trends are emerging that likely will keep AEC contractors that specialize in this sector busy.
At one end of the spectrum, some large non-tech enterprises are selling their data centers and opting for outsourcing, as opposed to building, operating and owning the physical facilities. At the other end, large tech firms are aggressively expanding their data-center complexes and buying space in co-location facilities. Experts say that both trends go to the heart of the storage market, where major advances in technology and increased demand for space and power have become just about the only constants.
At issue is the evolving cost-intensive data-center market itself, in which owners are building with an eye toward the next wave of advances while making way for rising storage needs due to factors such as cloud computing and videos, says Rich Hering, technical director of mission- critical facilities at M+W Group.
The advances "involve the 'internet of things,' which means we're putting sensors into things we use day to day, such as household appliances and thermostats, that can be controlled from far away," he says. The aim is to interconnect such devices with the internet infrastructure— through data centers that store the information—and enable, for example, data aggregation that can help predict trends.
"There's no ability to do this yet because the infrastructure—the software intelligence and ability to predict—is not there yet," Hering says. But R&D is under way to bring huge data streams into a predictive analytic format, a scenario for which data-center owners are prepping.
Such changes require major investments, which is largely why big enterprises are opting out and choosing to focus on their core competencies, says Graham Williams, chief commercial officer at co-location provider Cologix.
Among recent examples of this is ENR's parent firm, McGraw Hill Financial (MHF), which sold its 560,000-sq-ft data center in East Windsor, N.J., in early July to cloud and data-center provider QTS Realty Trust for about $75 million. The facility has the capacity to be greatly expanded with demand.
The deal includes a 50-acre, 14.1-megawatt solar field, sited adjacent to the center, that is among the largest privately owned, net-metered solar facilities in the Western Hemisphere. In connection with the deal, QTS is partnering with IT services provider Atos SE, which will provide outsourcing services to MHF.
The outsourcing trend is further borne out by a study by research firm DatacenterDynamics (DCD) last year on the U.S. and Candian co-location market. Nearly one-fourth of the region's total market is now outsourced, and year-over-year outsourcing and co-location sector investments, combined, last year rose 13%, to $8.8 billion. DCD forecasts a further 15% rise by the end of the year.
Another 2013 study showed 70% of data-center companies built or significantly renovated a data center in the past five years. That is down, however, from 2012 and 2011, when 80% did so, according to the Uptime Institute study based on a 2013 survey of 1,000 professionals from mostly large North American data centers. Some 81% of center operators that manage more than 5,000 servers built new infrastructure, the study says.