Physical Access Considerations When Building a Data Centre

The growth of the data centre industry is driven by the need to store, process, and deliver data and application services and given that most of these activities are carried out in real time, it is essential that data centre operators carefully consider proximity well in advance to provide for a competitive set of products. A data centre’s physical location is a critical element when considering these many factors but principally they are, power price and accessibility, latency sensitivities, skilled labour and managed services, network diversity and availability. 

Data centre infrastructure planning is catching up with demand. The urban edge data centre is looking to deliver services at the point of demand.  These facilities allow for transactions, media and applications delivery in very close proximity to the user.  By 2025, 40% of newly procured premises-based compute and storage will be consumed as a service, up from less than 10% in 20211.  The premise-based infrastructure is moving to the distributed cloud and that is delivered, for the most part, at the point of demand.  By their nature, edge data centres are typically small, unmanned, and very distributed.  Physical access remains important but more typically to build and install IT infrastructure rather than to deliver managed or FM services.

The ’near urban’ data centre is where much of the work is done to support the latency sensitive, but not hypersensitive, applications.  These are very accessible, manned 24/7 and require more substantial power, typically 50MW to 100MW.  Demand is high in this segment and consequently the land and power are typically expensive.  These facilities tend to have multiple physical access points.

The rural ‘country engine room’ data centre is located remotely and delivers applications and storage that are not sensitive to latency issues.  Ideally, these facilities are powered through a renewable source, have robust access to multiple fibre routes and have reasonable access to skilled labour and services.  Physical access to these facilities, whilst possible, often requires quite some travel.  They are generally serviced and supported by local teams.

For colocation services, companies and enterprises can decide where they want to house their own infrastructure, driven by price, access, services, latency, etc.  For cloud services it is much more likely that these are SLA based and the cloud provider manages multiple data centre sites to deliver an optimum service.  In all events these data centres rely on physical access both to provide maintenance and security but also to build, install, test and deliver large and complex solutions critical to the application services being made available.

One of the most important considerations when constructing a new facility is physical access.  Delivering construction materials and plants to a site and separately, removing any waste having prepared a piece of land, the remains of a previous building for example, are critical considerations.  Easy access for construction workers and specialised ‘set to work’ teams is crucial and can have a significant impact on the ultimate cost to deliver a project.

The physical location of a data centre will to some extent be driven by environmental factors. We need to remember that it is vital that the facility is operable, and the risk related to this is understood and managed.  Many factors such as natural disasters, temperature, contaminants or pollution, will impact the availability of online services.  Additionally, the availability of affordable power is fundamental. Taking account of greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy sourcing, power sustainability will provide data centres with long term sustainable solutions. 

Easy access and the availability of skilled labour are important considerations when it comes to site selection. Areas with limited transportation and accommodation options could affect the ability to operate a construction site and completed facility. 

Physical characteristics will always have a significant impact on the success of a data centre. Meeting client needs requires that a well-designed and well-constructed data centre is operated to the highest standard. Data centre developers and operators forget this at their peril. 

1 Gartner.

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