Why Construction Holds the Key to Digital Infrastructure’s Future

digital infrastructure construction

The world has been rapidly going digital over the past several years, and COVID-19 has undoubtedly accelerated this trend. Between lockdown measures and the sudden shift to remote work, the need for digital platforms and services around ecommerce, communication, and collaboration has increased exponentially.

Thanks to COVID-19, Zoom is now more valuable than Hilton, Expedia, and American Airlines combined. Microsoft Teams saw a 775% increase in monthly users in Italy, and AT&T's VPN saw a 700% rise in demand.

The need to digitize various activities has been so great that in a recent earnings call, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, “we’ve seen two years worth of digital transformation in two months."

And with the world changing at a rapid pace, you can bet that this trend will continue.

Enter digital infrastructure.

What is Digital Infrastructure and Why is It Important?

Digital infrastructure represents the building blocks of computing, data storage, and digital communications. The term refers to the physical assets — i.e., servers, fiber optic cables, and machines — that power the data centers which make the storage, computing, and distribution of data possible.

Without digital infrastructure and data centers, we wouldn’t have any of the cloud-based services, apps, and experiences we enjoy today.

As such, data centers are considered to be “mission-critical” facilities, which means they need to maintain “always on” reliability.

To accomplish that, data centers need to be built on a strong foundation.

Construction’s Role in Building Digital Infrastructure

Various sectors, ranging from government and healthcare to education and entertainment are continuing to move online. As the need for digital transformation grows, the demand for data center construction will increase along with it.

This presents a massive and appealing opportunity for construction professionals, but it’s important to note that building data centers can be a challenging undertaking. Setting up digital infrastructure involves complex and mechanical electrical systems. There are numerous factors to consider, including wiring and fiber for data transmission, power capacity, climate control, and more. Data centers need to be fail-proof, which means redundancies are a must.

It’s a tall order, which is why the right construction processes and technologies are essential.

How Construction Can Build Better Digital Infrastructure

Refine Collaboration and Coordination

Success in constructing digital infrastructure starts with having a solid team. To keep the project running smoothly, have team members use a robust construction management platform on which they could communicate and collaborate.

That’s what general contractor Mace Technology Ireland did when it led the construction of Facebook's Clonee Data Center. The project included a pair of 25,000-square-meter (approximately 269,000 square feet) data halls, and as many as 1,500 people per day contributed to the construction of the data center.

Mace used BIM 360's cloud-based platform to facilitate preconstruction coordination for phase 3 of the project. BIM 360 gave team members access to design models and various construction management tools. Since everyone was coordinating in the cloud, those working on the project were able to stay on the same page. This helped Mace avoid any timing and clash issues that could've delayed the project.

Needless to say, the team members at Mace were happy with the results.

“You can have the best technology, but it doesn’t really do much good unless you have backing from the whole team," said Paddy Ryan, BIM Lead at Mace. "We had that on the Clonee Data Centre project for Facebook. From the client to the trades, everyone on the project bought into the use of BIM and cloud technology. Now, it’s hard to imagine doing a project like this any other way.”

Integrate Prefabricated Elements

The growing demand for digital infrastructure means data centers need to be constructed in an expeditious and scalable way. While no two projects are the same, construction firms can efficiently build data centers by integrating prefabricated elements.

Instead of configuring the infrastructure from scratch, consider leveraging prefabrication. Companies such as IBM and Schneider Electric offer pre-configured but flexible cloud designs, allowing companies to rapidly deploy data center solutions.

Aside from increased speed, using prefabricated modules also improves the reliability of the digital infrastructure. As Wendy Torell, a senior research analyst at Schneider Electric points out, a pre-integrated approach “ensures that every system is pre-tested prior to delivery for operational reliability and is compliant with the highest security standards.”

Another benefit? Modular and prefabricated elements pave the way for more flexibility. They make it easier to adjust a data center's infrastructure as IT needs change.

Focus on Sustainability

Data centers consume huge amounts of energy, and this can take its toll on the environment. Forward-thinking companies recognize this, and many — including Google, Facebook, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft — are now taking steps to be more environment-friendly with their data centers.

When taking on these projects, construction companies need to keep sustainability in mind. This isn’t only in best practice; it’s increasingly becoming a must. Currently, 29 states have a renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which mandates that a specific percentage of the electricity that utilities sell must come from renewable resources

Going green with data centers starts with sustainable design. Opt for materials and equipment that are energy-efficient, and see to it that some or most of the data center’s components are powered by renewable energy.

Reduce hot spots by ensuring that raised floor tiles are positioned well and by designing a facility with good airflow. Also, strive to minimize energy waste. For instance, the facility’s lighting could be linked to motion sensors so they don't switch on when they're not in use.

Gain Control of Assets and Equipment

When it comes to large, complex projects like constructing data centers, it’s all too easy to lose track of assets like equipment, system components, and building materials. Prevent that by using a solution that simplifies how stakeholders track and manage these construction assets.

Use a platform that makes all the necessary information readily available to operations teams. Facility teams should be able to easily retrieve asset information such as PDFs, 3D models, training videos, and more.

Aside from improving collaboration and overall project quality, having a solid handle on your assets, data, and equipment streamlines the commissioning and handover phase of the project. When information and assets are stored in a centralized platform, you can quickly put together asset and equipment information (e.g., serial numbers, warranty dates, etc.) for the owner while installing and starting the equipment.

Construction Will Play a Major Role in Building the Digital Infracture of the Future. Are You Prepared?

The demand for digital won’t be slowing down anytime soon, which means the need for more data centers is inevitable. Construction professionals who want to capitalize on this opportunity have to be prepared. Arm yourself with the digital infrastructure knowledge and tools you need to see your projects to success.

To learn more about digital infrastructure, check out Infrastructure Masons, an association of technical professionals responsible for building and operating the foundation of the digital age.

Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.