It took us about a year to build our new data center. The location was predetermined – it had to be built at our site in Lupfig, together with the existing data center buildings. Some other providers are investing around 14 times as much in their projects and still have to wait several years for their completion. Our project, on the other hand, was completed at lightning speed and just 368 days passed between the cornerstone and the opening ceremony. How do these projects differ? Which consequences can delays have?
Reto, what can the state-run company learn from us?
Our location was known from the start, and that was definitely a huge advantage.
Our team makes all the difference and bundles an enormous wealth of national and international data center construction experience. Each and every member of the team has already collaborated on projects of a similar scale that have also been completed at this kind of speed.
The building’s structure and design, both of which need to facilitate a modular approach, as well as the experience contributed by each of our individual team members are a boon. We turned the traditional concept of sequential construction upside down and our concurrent approach to the project saves us an enormous amount of time. This kind of modular construction method is only possible, though, through efficient teamwork and effective communication. While the goal was clear, precisely how we would reach that goal was something that evolved over the course of the construction project. We’re proud of the fact that we built our data center in 368 days, from the laying of the cornerstone until the opening ceremony, which might just be a new record!
My advice to other companies and institutions interested in building a data center is to select your construction team very carefully, define a modular, efficient and time-saving design and cultivate a culture of open communication within the team.
Kelvin, you’ve worked for several different data center providers around the world. Have you experienced Swiss punctuality on construction projects in other countries?
I’ve participated in several data center projects, mainly in Scandinavia, and have come across the expression of “Swiss punctuality” or “Swiss time” quite frequently.
Data centers, which in reality are high-tech buildings filled with high-tech equipment, are as challenging to build as they are to design. Tight schedules have always been a recurring issue for these data center projects and whenever you’re on a tight schedule, you also rely more heavily on Swiss punctuality. Especially during the final phase of a data center project, when all the systems come together and have to undergo and pass a complex commissioning process.
So why are data center construction projects always subject to such tight schedules?
Well, first of all, building a data center is a big investment. As I already mentioned: a data center is a high-tech building with a lot of expensive equipment to secure the clients’ servers.
You often have customers lined up in the corridor and waiting to move in. Plus, there’s a lot of planning involved since they might be migrating a thousand servers or more from another site.
Operating expenses (OPEX) are another reason why schedules are often tight. Normally, we only talk about OPEX once a facility has been put into operation. For a data center, however, the people you want to run it are normally hired from the start of the project. Depending on its size and complexity, that could be a handful of people.
Nothing’s impossible and with the right setup and reliable partners, any data center project can be finished on time.
Christoph, after our data center’s official opening, we still have to make it ready for service. What type of work does that involve and how long will it take us?
Operating a data center efficiently after it’s been planned and built hinges on three key elements: power, cooling and connectivity. A structured asset management system is employed right from the planning stage to keep operational aspects in mind. That means each infrastructure asset being put into operation has its own asset ID. This ID is entered into the data center monitoring system during construction, which not only saves us time during commissioning but also ensures that we’ve already got all the details we need for lifecycle management. Up to 500 assets undergo an acid test at the time of commissioning so that we can put the infrastructure into operation on the very day of the grand opening ceremony. That means we take something that would normally require six months and cut it down to around 10 days, a reduction of 95%, because we take operation into account during the construction stage. This makes us extremely efficient and punctual.
Christoph, if a customer wants to move into one of our existing data centers, how long will they generally have to wait until a cage or rack is ready? And what do we do to meet the agreed deadline?
My team includes proven project managers from the data center environment. Their wealth of experience and forward-looking planning mean we can promise rack or cage customers lead times of just a few days. Larger rooms and individual customer requirements might mean lead times of four to eight weeks, depending on the details. The magic word here is “communication”. Ongoing contact among professionals boosts quality, cuts costs and shortens lead times.
Roger, you used to work for UBS as an international cloud expert. Looking at this from a private-sector perspective, what kind of consequences do other data center providers suffer when major delays like this happen?
When projects like these experience delays, the problem lies in the chain reaction they trigger. The data center completion date is often used as the starting date for other stages. If there’s already a delay at this stage, everything else gets delayed as well. Not only can it lead to huge additional costs for the project itself, but it can also have an enormous strategic impact that comes with its own additional expenses. This could change the server lifecycle, for example, and that means that the servers might have to be configured a second time. It also means having to accept certain risks, such as the need to rent additional data center space and subsequent costs for moving the server to the new facility or an inability to implement the data center optimization strategy if we’re bound by longer-term contracts for this additional space. Not to mention situations where data center construction was prompted by growth or new markets, in which case a delay could even cause the provider to miss out on the opportunity entirely.
Roger, could you share your three biggest tips for customers interested in moving into a new data center building?
Having the right partner is important, one who’s already done this and not just anywhere, but in the precise location where you want to be. Those of us at Green are proud to say that we’ve already built several data centers in Switzerland. And not only that, but we’ve been able to successfully implement facilities of all sizes, including everything from small deployments to hyperscale data centers.
It’s vital that the fitout is well-planned because that’s often what you end up living with for quite a lot longer than you might have assumed at the start. What matters are two key factors: “fit for purpose” and “fit for future”. Anticipating everything isn’t just impossible, but also extremely costly. You still have to think ahead, though.
It’s also important to remain focused on the applications. Infrastructure and the physical data center are usually coordinated relatively closely, but sometimes people lose sight of the actual business and its applications, which of course could follow other cycles and might not have waited for this change. Modern cloud technologies improve this situation since they’re abstract and easier to migrate as a result.
Adhering to deadlines – not an impossibility
Good planning is indispensable when building a new data center. It’s important that you always keep your eye on the goal and come up with a plan in advance for dealing with potential difficulties. An undertaking like this isn’t a walk in the park, though. You need reliable partners with extensive experience in this area to ensure that your data center construction project is completed successfully and on time. An experienced team and open communication will help optimize processes while also saving you both time and money.
It’s only when everybody involved makes an efficiently coordinated effort that the dream of building and commissioning a new data center within a short period of time can become a reality – and that doesn’t just thrill us, but our customers as well.