Bruner discusses sustainability and expansion issues at DICE Southwest
CyrusOne Vice President of Project Development Lindsey Bruner always relishes the chance to educate people about the data center industry.
Recently, in an Uber on the way to the Bisnow Datacenter Investment Conference & Expo Southwest (DICE Southwest) in Phoenix, her driver asked her, “Data center… What’s a data center?”
“That’s the big, air-conditioned box where the internet lives,” she quipped.
On May 3, she continued her mission to discuss what the data center industry does and how it can do it better by joining DICE Southwest’s “From Data Center Site Selection to Delivery: How are Expansion Strategies and Sustainability Objectives Shifting?” panel. The line-up included Compass Datacenters Senior Vice President of Development & Acquisitions Chris Curtis, Iron Mountain Data Centers Vice President of Operational Standards Robert McClary and TBL Mission Critical Co-founder & Managing Partner Marvin Rowell III.
TAS Energy Director of Modular Innovation Jon Benson moderated the discussion focused on the explosive growth data centers face and the challenges and opportunities this has created. This is particularly true in the Phoenix market, which has delivered 130 megawatts of absorption from 2020 to 2021 with little sign of slowing. Benson asked the panel how data center development strategies have changed as market growth continues to scale.
Bruner noted the focus on water resources in certain markets.
“That’s one of the challenges and also one of the opportunities when locating in the Southwest, which has so much to offer in terms of land available for development,” she said. “One of the [other] challenges is competition with those same logistics facilities all our municipal partners also like to attract.”
It’s an issue CyrusOne met head on with closed-loop cooling at its Chandler campus near Phoenix, which has been net water positive since 2019.
She also cited competition for talent as the data center industry, like many, faces a growing skills gap.
“Data centers don’t create a lot of jobs, but they do create high-paying jobs,” Bruner said. “One of the aspects of sustainability is creating a workforce that can work in data centers. And that’s something that we’ve looked into, and we are working on in Northern Virginia and the training facilities there. We’re doing that in Europe as well. So, creating opportunities to build a better ecosystem around not just the data center facility, but the broader community around it.”
Benson wondered how data center companies can keep their facilities operational while minimizing the impact on energy and water resources in Phoenix and elsewhere. Bruner said CyrusOne already considers several key areas of sustainability, but she expects more design innovations in the next 10 years.
“We start from very basic, energy source and renewable energy – it sounds like those are the same thing, but they’re not,” she said. “Energy source means, ‘Can the data center also contribute back to the community in terms of supplying heated water to a district heating system? Can the data center give power back?’ Energy sources, renewable energy, we’re looking to be 100% green powered across our portfolio. We already are in Europe, and we’re building up to it here in the United States.”
There’s also green building to consider, she added.
“How can we make the building itself, less environmentally impactful, whether that’s recycling initiatives, green building construction methods, LEED design, BREEAM design and then biodiversity?” Bruner said. “This is also one of those places where you can put the data center and make it seem like it is a community amenity, as opposed to a nuisance. Can you create a piece of your campus that serves as habitat? Can you create a piece of your campus that serves as park facility with walking trail that brings green space and becomes a good community amenity instead of just a large building?”
And finally, she pointed out data centers don’t usually create a lot of vehicle traffic.
“Once construction is done, there is no traffic from the facility,” she said. “While it is not a net creator of jobs, it is also a net remover of combustion and carbon from that perspective. So, there are a lot of different ways that we can look at that, and Phoenix is a great market to innovate in.”
But there’s an elephant in the room for the Phoenix market – density. Land is already at a premium, and two of the largest semiconductor manufacturers on the planet are currently building massive facilities there. If the industry looks ahead to the next 12 to 18 months, Benson asked Bruner how do density and labor shortages impact site selection?
“It’s a tremendous challenge that requires a lot of cross-functional partnership,” she said. “We don’t do our site selection process in isolation. That’s why we call it project development. We are constantly working with our construction and design team and our procurement team to put together this puzzle. How do we work together to put it together into something that meets the customer’s requirements on time? And the other part is just, revising what a realistic expectation is. ‘Just in time’ means you’re planning two years out, and that’s from every single aspect. It’s your power, it’s your site, it’s your supply chain.”
Benson agreed that supply chain issues stand out today, particularly the supply chain of experienced talent and where to find it. He wondered what educational institutions are doing to focus on that, and is there an opportunity for business to help drive it?
Bruner said there is “absolutely” an opportunity to drive that business, and it’s an issue she has familiarity with from experience.
“I came from renewable energy, and about 10 years ago, we had the same kind of problem where we didn’t have the right technicians with the right experience to work on turbines and work on solar fields,” she said. “A lot of people in the industry have worked with the technical colleges to create training programs for people to do that type of facilities management. The same opportunity exists today for the data center industry, not just for data center facilities management, but attracting people to the trades, attracting people to careers in procurement and supply chain management, which has applications, not just in data center supply chain, but in logistics and supply chain. There’s an incredible opportunity and something, as part of community engagement, that we all in the industry should look to invest in.”