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Data center construction hasn't stalled, say experts and users

Microsoft and Google may have slowed their data center construction, but projects haven't stalled in all industries.

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft and Google may have delayed their data center construction projects, but such slowdowns may not be the case for all industries.

Compared with a few years ago, the state of data center construction may not be booming, but it's still going strong, said users and experts at the AFCOM Data Center World this week.

The initial fall-off of financial data center construction has been replaced by the construction of new government data centers, said Richard Sawyer, a vice president and engineer for EYP Mission Critical Facilities, which is now a division of Hewlett-Packard Co.

Data center construction maintains
Even those companies intricately connected with government priorities see sharp growth in the near future. Tom Roberts, the data center facility management director for Trinity Health, a Novi, Mich.-based health-care organization, estimated that the government's desire to digitize all health records will cause his company to double or triple its data center environment over the next couple years.

"What we are expecting from the data center environment is a rollout of digital records," Roberts said. "Eleven of our 17 sites have already rolled out, but the remaining six are our largest ones."

I think flat is good news.
Karl Griffith,
director of enterprise marketsGraybar Electric Co.

HP's Sawyer said another healthy area for data center construction is data center colocation. If corporations decide against spending millions to build their own facilities in a troubled economy, they look to colocation to fill the gap, he said.

There does seem to be a philosophical change among colos, however, said Jim Simonelli, the chief technology officer for APC and a member of AFCOM's advisory board. Whereas colos used to build data centers and then look for customers, they're now more cautious and build to spec, which can extend a construction project's timeline. That is the situation with Microsoft at its new Chicago-area data center. The company said it would build as demand warranted.

But using Microsoft and Google as a measuring stick for the data center industry is an inaccurate benchmark because these companies are on a different tier from most enterprises.

"There's a technology gap between those guys and the regular guys running a data center," said Karl Griffith, the director of enterprise markets for data center components distributor Graybar Electric Co.

In addition, he said that data center buildouts from those large technology companies are somewhat based on a trend – cloud computing – the future of which is uncertain, and certainly more so in a tough economic climate.

Griffith and his company maintain what he called a data center index, looking at all the distribution components that go through Graybar in its work with customers. He said the first two months of this year were flat with the same two months of last year. "I think flat is good news," he said.

Even corporate data centers that aren't intricately connected with the government need to expand their digital footprint. Jeffrey Newbill, a senior designer for Northern Southern Corp., which runs the Norfolk Southern Railroad Co. in Norfolk, Va., described in a session here how his company moved two data centers in two years.

He wasn't the only one. Jim Bolinder, senior technical operations manager for Nu Skin Enterprises, in Provo, Utah, said his company planned to build a new data center in the near future. "Our lease is up in our current facility, so we're in the process of buying our own building," Bolinder said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. You can also check out our Data Center Facilities Pro blog.

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