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As Data Needs Surge, Demand For Skilled Data Center Contractors Surges With It

A Clune Construction project.

As the demand for data centers continues to skyrocket, so does the demand for construction companies with the skills and expertise to build high-quality facilities. This can be a tough order to fill, since data centers remain uncharted territory for many firms, which may not understand the unique challenges that come with building these facilities. 

From their massive square footage and power needs to installing sufficient rack space and HVAC equipment that can address cooling issues, there are many unique features of data center infrastructure that need to be taken into consideration from preconstruction to the ribbon-cutting. It can take years of experience to fully master how to meet these needs. 

Clune CEO Dave Hall and Senior Vice President Dave Sitkowski have, combined, been working on data center projects for more than 35 years. They are well-versed in the challenges of creating mission-critical facilities, which refers to facilities that store or transmit confidential, sensitive information. 

“Data centers can hold the key to a company’s entire operation and it can be catastrophic if they go down, even for just a few minutes,” Hall said. “To keep this from happening, you need to work with a team that knows how to construct a space that’s prepared to handle the rigorous day-to-day operations of a mission-critical facility.” 

Bisnow sat down with Hall and Sitkowski to learn more about what inspired them to enter the data center industry, the challenges of constructing mission-critical infrastructure and why it takes an experienced team to get the job done. 

Bisnow: What major changes have you seen in the data center industry in the last few years? 

Sitkowski: There’s been an explosion of hyperscale growth in the last four years or so, and there is now constant pressure to build these facilities faster. I would say we’re now building data centers at least 50% faster than when I first started. 

Hall: The theme today is “larger, larger, larger.” At the same time, the cost per unit continues to go down. This could be due to the fact that there is more prefabrication happening and few data centers are being constructed on-site. 

Bisnow: What inspired you to enter the Mission Critical field? 

Hall: Twenty-five years ago, most of the data center industry was focused around banking. At the time, I was working with a financial client, and they told me they needed a data center, and I didn’t even know what it was. Once I learned more, I knew it was a good fit for me. I’ve always enjoyed the construction planning process. The more complicated the project, the better. Data centers can be very tricky to build and they require more pre-construction and planning. I love the challenge. 

Sitkowski: For me, it was about being in the right place at the right time. I was in between projects and Dave asked me to step in and help with a data center project he was working on for about three or four months. The months came and went, and I never left. 

Bisnow: What are some of the main challenges of building data centers? 

Hall: What we’re seeing today is challenging, but what’s coming down the road will be 10 times more challenging. Our hyperscale clients are telling us that they have to make their facilities scalable because they are expecting to grow quickly. To construct on this level, you need to have a lot of experience, and it can be a real challenge to find workers who fit that bill. To make building out facilities simpler, we’ve been interfacing with the equipment manufacturers to ensure they’re making what we need to give our clients what they need in the future. 

Sitkowski: One of the biggest challenges we’ve come across recently is the lack of an available qualified workforce to keep up with the growth of data center construction. The highly technical nature of these projects requires a special skill set from its construction team. The large demand for data centers has strained resources at all levels in many markets.

Bisnow: Can you give me an example of a particularly complex data center project you worked on? 

Sitkowski: Last year in Dallas we were constructing a facility over an old riverbed. We had to build a pier for the structure and while we initially thought it just needed to be 10 feet or 15 feet high, when we examined the depth of the riverbed we realized we needed to construct a 125-foot double-walled caisson into the bedrock. Now, it’s one of the most connected buildings in the city of Dallas. 

Hall: I worked on a project in Connecticut where our client had purchased a data center, and right after they bought it, the electrical infrastructure failed. Tenants were already in the facility, so we had to do a large addition to the building and construct all new infrastructure while keeping tenants up and running. It ended up being an almost three-year project to avoid any disruption to the clients. Going down was not an option. 

Bisnow: Where do you see the data center market heading in the future? 

Sitkowski: Data center growth won’t slow down anytime soon. While the pandemic may have been the catalyst for accelerating today’s growth, the growing demand for artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, edge computing and other technologies will keep this stamina going for a long time. 

Hall: Our country’s digital infrastructure is not built for the number of data centers that are being constructed today, let alone tomorrow. Something needs to connect them all together, so I anticipate seeing more infrastructure projects down the road. Also, digital criminals are not getting dumber, so data center security will need to continue to evolve, especially as everything moves to the cloud. 

This article was produced in collaboration between Clune Construction and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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