Our Datacentre sector lead, Martin Smith talks about his time as a data centre client and how a focus on project management can significantly improve data centre delivery as well as what excites him about the future of the sector.


How do you want to make a difference to the data centre market?

Over the past 20-30 years we’ve seen a Technology Revolution that rivals the Industrial Revolution in terms of its impact on our economy and society.  The data centre is at the heart of this Technology Revolution, yet it remains a largely ‘hidden’ sector of the construction industry.  It’s a bit of a closed shop, with only a limited number of consultants and contractors willing to embrace the “dark art” of data centre project delivery.  In my view, this has two consequences.  Firstly, there is an acknowledged skills shortage, which will impact the ability to manage the development pipeline to meet demand.  Secondly, the pressure to “get it done” and reduce risk by using proven, yet limited resources, means we’re not necessarily getting a wider view of the skills, knowledge and experience that other construction sectors may bring.

So, how do I want to make a difference?  Focussing on Project Management of data centre construction, I’d like to educate and enthuse the latest generation of project managers to see the data centre sector as an exciting opportunity, that they should be getting involved in.  It’s not going away and I firmly believe that, once you’ve dispelled some of the myths, data centres are no more complex than many of the projects they’d willingly tackle in other sectors.  By bringing in new talent, we bring a wider lens to the sector and can apply best practice, intelligence and innovation to address the challenges posed by data centre projects.


What have been your biggest challenges in the sector?

Having worked ‘client-side’ for the past 8 years, I believe I’ve got a good insight as to what keeps data centre developers awake at night.  Everyone wants their projects to be safe, on time, good value, high quality, low risk and environmentally sustainable, but the sector-specific drivers are speed to market and certainty of outcome.

Hence, some of the challenges to be tackled are standardisation, scalability and phasing.

The skills gap I highlighted earlier requires an innovative procurement strategy and market intelligence to manage the supply chain.

It’s essential to define communication, organisation and controls to establish robust governance, whilst promoting collaboration and engaging stakeholders.

The Operations Team are a key stakeholder and if a project is to be successful, it needs to recognise the demands of working on live sites and the time needed for testing, commissioning, handover and user training.      

To address these issues, Project Management must be a core service, not a ‘bolt on’ to other services or roles.  It should be independent and focused on the client’s needs. 


Can data centres be net zero carbon?

I don’t think we have a choice. 

The key players (Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple) have made some stringent climate pledges and that will impact the whole sector.

In Europe, the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact sets out the actions that data centre operators and trade associations agree to take to make data centres climate neutral by 2030.  This is well ahead of the European Green Deal target of 2050.

Data centre developers and operators are increasingly focussing on their environmental footprint, which can only be a good thing.


What are the future trends that are driving the market?

The topics impacting and influencing the sector and getting the market excited include 5G, Edge computing, the Internet of Things, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Robotics, Machine Learning and self-driving vehicles.

All these emerging technologies and innovative applications need to capture, process and analyse the data near to where it’s created. 

They have demanding performance requirements in terms of speed, capacity, latency and reliability. 

You don’t want your self-driving car to crash into a wall whilst it’s waiting to download information from a data centre in the Nordics!

Edge infrastructure helps solve these challenges by providing small, distributed data centres that provide a midpoint between edge devices and the centralised Cloud.

The impact of ‘Edge’ infrastructure on the data centre construction market will be to create demand for larger numbers of smaller data centres situated in closer proximity to where data is created.

Micro or pod type data centres for example, as well as the centralised ‘hyperscale’ data centres that we are already seeing.

So, the data centre construction pipeline is set to continue, whether it’s ‘edge’ or ‘hyperscale’ facilities.