A while back I read that WindData decided not to build their new data center facility in Pflugerville, Texas “due to complications uncovered in our due diligence process”. I have no idea what the problems they encountered were but their experience is illustrative of the many pitfalls associated with data center site selection and development. Recently we were fortunate enough to run a series of Industry Perspective columns in Data Center Knowledge documenting the difficulties associated with site selection and development and I thought I’d highlight some of the main considerations here:
- Site selection is a process of attrition: A data center site isn’t so much selected as much as it is often the last one standing in a process of elimination. When factors like access to utilities, local regulations and proximity to performance affecting entities like a chemical factory are considered the “perfect” site often is quite so perfect.
- You have to understand the local “layout”: No two municipalities are the same. What is acceptable for one may not be in another. In our experience we’ve even found this to be the case in adjacent cities.
- Obtaining permits and approvals is an arduous process: This issue is an extension of understanding the local layout. Even if you’ve purchased the land that doesn’t mean that you can build a data center there. The permitting and approval process can take months and even then, there is no guarantee that your project will be approved. Issues surrounding permits and approvals are also a major reason why using an existing building isn’t necessarily faster than building from the ground up.
- Beware of hidden requirements: Just because you want to “just build a data center” doesn’t mean that your selected site won’t have to include requirements (like what should be included in your landscaping) that you haven’t anticipated or more importantly, budgeted for.
- Experience counts: Site development is a learned skill. On the job training is not the methodology you want to use when selecting and developing a data center site. Attempting to perform the activities necessary to perform this function with personnel, consultants or contractors who are not familiar with data centers will only add time and costs to your efforts. For example, you’ve acquired the land only to find out that a gas main easement runs through it or the site has actually been built but someone neglected to send in the load letter and the utility dedicated the power elsewhere. Both of these are real world examples that I’ve seen over the course of my career.
Ultimately, the successful performance of a data center begins with site selection and development process. Ironically, this element is rarely written or spoken about. Customers or providers looking for their next data center location that don’t recognize the importance of these initial elements of the data center delivery process can easily find themselves wishing that they hadn’t “tried this at home”.