Digital innovations have transformed the global built environment. Digital expert Daniel O’Shaughnessy explains how these new technologies are being used in the data centre sector to improve reliability, achieve faster delivery and reach the highest safety standards.
Global demand for data is increasing. In order to meet that demand, data centres operators are required to deliver at increasing pace, with speed-to-market and cost-effectiveness top priorities. At the same time, with net zero emissions targets high on the agenda, data centre owners are under pressure to build more efficiently and to deliver and operate greener buildings and infrastructure. The good news is that the use of digital solutions can help manage these conflicting demands.
Both the design and construction industries are moving towards leaner and greener methods to meet carbon emission reduction goals. Technological advancements are bringing about new ways to optimise project delivery, increase productivity and create efficiencies throughout the design and construction process – all key principles for the data centre sector. Efficient design tools, the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning automate repetitive manual tasks, enabling greater creativity whilst providing more reliable design and construction outcomes.
The wider benefits of a digital approach
Many projects still follow the generations-old linear process of briefing, design, construction and finally, occupation — with maintenance and facilities management considerations frequently an afterthought.
Digital innovation affords teams the opportunity to access and benefit from the latest innovations in advanced manufacturing, design and construction, while facilitating the shift to a more circular lifecycle approach. Digitally integrated platforms help multidisciplinary teams and supply chain collaborate more resourcefully, making complex, often global, programmes simpler to manage while reducing downstream costs.
Informed by our digital expertise and global experience, AECOM has developed a platform which brings together the latest digital tools. The platform is built around a central digital library that enables knowledge capture, supports interdisciplinary workflows and applies lessons learnt to deliver smarter, faster and better.
Digital solutions facilitate informed decision-making from project inception through to operation, all of which help to:
- understand design implications and manage change control;
- maximise specification selection and management of materials or equipment;
- increase collaboration across geographies to streamline communication and intensify innovation.
Benefits specific to data centre delivery
An integrated digital delivery approach can transform processes and improve outcomes across the data centre lifecycle. Here are five specific benefits:
Digital methodologies optimise processes, add value and encourage innovation. Showing designs in a virtual way reduces the need for two-dimensional (2D) drawings and increases design efficiency, specifications, costings and programming as a result. Next-generation Building Information Modeling (BIM) authoring tools and Technical Quality Review procedures (an internal quality control procedure developed by AECOM) allow stakeholders such as design partners to review digitally, leading to better design decisions. As an example, a cross-section through a typical hot and cold aisle can be conveyed in a much more tangible manner using digital tools than via traditional 2D output.
Data centre facilities are deployed in phases to maximise operational capacity. These general arrangement plans are usually demonstrated through traditional 2D output. However, implementing 4D BIM for construction sequencing allows the process to be animated, potentially drawing upon machine learning capabilities to better evaluate and establish the most efficient way forward. This process was especially useful for one of our hyperscale clients in seeing the entire lifecycle of their development and facilitated much better stakeholder engagement with design teams, contractors and local communities.
Used at the masterplan stage, digital tools can establish optimal building orientations offering up operational efficiencies that can help reduce future energy demands. For example, these tools can analyse the best wind directions to help control building temperatures or model for hot spot areas that will require greater cooling.
Furthermore, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis allows us to see how liquids and gases flow around the data centre, vital to fully assess heating /cooling and ventilation strategies. We were able to use CFD modelling on a hyperscale project to ensure the best design was met, which ultimately saved time and costs.
Leveraging BIM with pedestrian traffic simulation software allows the analysis of pedestrian flow within a building or given scenario. Given the amount of electrical equipment housed within data centres, planning for fire safety should be a key focus, so being able to simulate and evaluate escape distances and egress points within a given footprint can be valuable when mitigating safety risk.
5/Plant replacement strategy
Data centres are densely populated with maintainable assets that may need to be replaced periodically. Commissioning and facilities management processes can benefit from machine analysis of the most efficient routes for plant replacement based on worst case scenario equipment dimensions. For operators with a large portfolio of data centres, this form of digital asset management can offer economies of scale and greater efficiency in getting a better understanding of the commissioning process and an overarching view of global asset management.
Harnessing the power of digital transformation, connecting data and collaborating with key partners will help solve the complex challenges faced by the industry both now and in the future. There is no doubt that embracing digital delivery solutions early has a truly transformative impact in helping design and deliver new data centres faster, smarter and better.