Data Center Construction – The Design / Build Advantage

Throughout the years, the U.S. military has trusted its mission-critical need to produce state of the art military aircraft, on a very short timetable, to a highly specialized, yet little regarded entity known as the “Skunk Works.”

In its origins, the “Skunk Works” was a design-build program for ultra-high performance military and research aircraft. The motivation for the Skunk Works was responding to the threat posed by arms race with the rival Soviet Union. Drawing together the brightest lights in design, engineering and manufacturing under one roof, the goal was simple: get it done fast and get it done right the first time.

Whether it’s a high tech fighter jet, or a high reliability mission critical data center, the “devil is in the details” when it comes to success. The genius of the “Skunk Works” approach is that it puts everyone involved in the process on the same side of the table looking and working toward a common objective. This is in contrast to the more conventional design-bid-build approach that the public sector uses for nearly every other venture.

The weakness of the design-bid-build process is that it creates a conflict of interest between the parties involved – the engineer/designer is working to protect the intent of the design, the contractor and sub-contractor is placed in a competitive bid situation and tasked by their management to “make up the profit” once the job is landed. And the owner is put in the middle of a detailed discussion making decisions that he isn’t interested in or even qualified to make.

So why do so many businesses trust their enterprise data processing to a traditional design-bid-build process? The answer is simple: cost. There is a perception in the industry that design/build projects cost more. Indeed for conventional AIA “CM at Risk” design/build projects, where the scope is not clearly defined, the cost can be quite difficult to control. And there is the potential for the CM at risk to pad their pricing.

The answer to this shortcoming is to not give up, but to build a better mousetrap. The answer is in the data center assessment. A focused, efficient assessment will lay out the roadmap for the process. If done properly, it should establish a not to exceed budget for the entire project.

Most data center managers can relate to the mission critical nature of a military aircraft. Like an F-104 Starfighter or the SR-71 “Blackbird”, most data centers have a mission built on 100% availability. And when a data center does “crash”, it can feel like it dropped out of the sky. Just like Skunk Works, the data center manager needs many disparate elements of the operation to come together – he needs I.T. hardware that is matched to his applications, he needs storage, he needs a network that allows his I.T. equipment to develop its full potential and he needs critical mechanical and electrical systems that are right-sized for his needs.

The “Skunk Works” style data center design build approach is the right method.

Jamie Masur

Marketing Coordinator