Changes in the data center market provide opportunities for contractors. Most involve construction and relocation projects and come as a result of the increasing power data centers demand. However, increasing energy consumption problems and concerns are forcing many data center owners and operators to explore alternate options.

“The number one reason for all of the activity around data centers is that many have reached their limit for available power,” said Karl Griffith, director, enterprise market at Graybar. “In fact, some reports put out by AFCOM [the association for data center professionals] note that 53 percent of all data centers will expand and 32 percent will relocate by 2016.”

Griffith said constraints are due to the rapidly growing rate of power consumption by data centers.

Data center power consumption is so high that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prepared a document on the subject for Congress. The report states that data centers use 1.5 percent of the entire U.S. power grid.

What happened?

The growth in power consumption by data centers stems from a number of sources. First, organizations need increasingly larger amounts of data storage. Griffith estimated that storage demands are growing at a compounded rate of about 25 percent per year.

“Data centers have to store everything: audio, video, data records, e-mail,” he said. “Some industries, such as healthcare, have additional storage needs because of a shift toward digital imaging, which typically involves storing high resolution images with large file sizes.”

Changing regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley public accounting act, are further fueling storage growth.

The need for storage capacity leads to a need for servers.

“Years ago in a data center, you may have had four to six servers in a cabinet,” Griffith said. “Depending on the type of servers you use today, you can fit 10–15 times as many in the same size cabinet.” With the advent of 1U servers and even smaller blade servers, data centers have the physical space to house more, but this leads to much higher power consumption and cooling challenges.

“The traditional rule of thumb is that for every kilowatt used to power everything in the data center, another kilowatt is used to cool it all down,” Griffith said.

Decisions, decisions

Power constraints combined with rising building costs force data center managers to make tough decisions. They can choose to redesign, rebuild or relocate. For data centers considering relocation, availability and cost of power are key factors in choosing a site.

“Data centers are moving to places where power is not only available but available for less money,” Griffith said. “Other factors are also important in a relocation decision. For example, data centers will typically not move to places that are prone to hurricanes, flooding and earthquakes.”

“The opportunity for contractors is huge, absolutely huge. The 2006 Gartner study on data centers listed that the mix of infrastructure within the data center is 42 percent electrical, 20 percent mechanical, 2 percent data cabling and 2 percent security. Plus, the need for redundancy in a data center means dual electrical paths, more switchgear and more cable,” he said.

Many contractors are already

participating in data center projects, and the urgency surrounding power requirements is moving more of them to the forefront. Communications and wiring requirements are high.

Data centers are here to stay and will continue to generate a hefty amount of business for anyone involved in the built environment. Contractors should seriously consider ramping up efforts, so opportunities do not pass them by.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at jennifer.stong@comcast.net.