Data Center Site Selection: Know Your Local Stakeholders

Stack Infrastructure and Data Center Frontier finish up a new special report series by exploring the importance of knowing your local stakeholders in successful data center site selection, as well well as what to expect from your new location — even what may be hard to predict. 

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Local stakeholders and community members can sometimes be overlooked in data center site selection, but they can be the data center operator’s most important ally.

Operators know all the benefits their data centers can bring the surrounding areas, including tax revenue, high-quality jobs, clean operations and improvements to local infrastructure. Many regions offer abatements on sales, property, and energy taxes to demonstrate their eagerness to host data centers. Operators should reciprocate by displaying a willingness to work with local officials and community groups. But even then, the community often needs to be informed of the benefits.

Data center operators can partner with local officials to make their presence a point of pride as happened in Loudoun County, Va., which branded a corridor housing numerous processing facilities as “Data Center Alley” in a bid to position itself as an alternative to Silicon Valley.

Each community is different and understanding the interests of local stakeholders is critical to avoid unforeseen conflicts. These include local elected officials, regulators and community groups.

Community relationships need to be continually cultivated. Turnover among elected officials and civil servants requires new outreach to build constructive partnerships. Operators should be aware of any history of local activism and reach out to leaders of relevant groups with offers of complete transparency.

Expect the Unexpected

Despite your best efforts to thoroughly vet a location for seismic activity, vulnerability to natural disasters, talent availability and abundance of bandwidth, unforeseen circumstances can still derail a project.

Many regions offer abatements on sales, property, and energy taxes to demonstrate their eagerness to host data centers.

  • The sheer complexity of data center construction is a risk. The project typically involves multiple vendors, subcontractors and as many as 50 different disciplines in areas like structural, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, fuel pumps, networking and security. Uptime Institute reported that the vast majority of data center failures are caused by human error and that in the most severe cases nearly three-quarters of operators believed that better management, processes or configuration could have avoided downtime. It is essential that competent and experienced project managers oversee the effort through to smooth operation.
  • A site evaluation should investigate whether there are underground mineral or energy deposits that could invite drilling or mining by companies in other locations. Depending upon local regulations these activities could be entirely legal. The result can be disruptive vibrations or even catastrophic events like sinkholes that threaten physical infrastructure.
  • Be aware of nearby transportation sources. For example, if hazardous materials are transported on nearby railroad lines or by truck on adjacent highways, the impact of a derailment or crash could be disastrous.
  • Many data centers are in office or industrial parks. Know the business of your neighbors. For example, a chemical plant down the street may issue noxious fumes that could interfere with your cooling system or create an unpleasant work environment. The same risk applies to groundwater pollutants that could contaminate the area and force businesses to shut down.
  • Be aware of easement rules that could make parts of your property accessible to outsiders. For example, a walking or bicycle path that goes inside your property creates a security problem.
  • Sometimes there are opportunities to find win-win solutions. One data center owner struck a deal with a nearby greenhouse to take its heated exhaust air, thereby reducing both the data center’s cooling costs and the greenhouse owners’ heating expenses. In another example, a data center owner took in wastewater from a neighboring chemical plant and used it for cooling purposes, sharing the cost of disposal with its neighbor.

When it comes to siting a hyperscale data center, the principle of “think globally, act locally” can’t be over-emphasized. Building a data center is a long-term commitment. Time spent up front on mission-critical factors such as ensuring a secure location with access to ample power and high-speed bandwidth can prevent costly repairs and retrofits down the line. Both the owner and operations team also need to be aware of the importance of stakeholder relations, since the data center and staff will be important members of the community for years to come. By investing time at the front end to make cautious decisions with an eye toward the future, operators can ensure that they have the support of all stakeholders in the project’s ongoing success.

Catch up on the first and second entry in the series, as well as how important network connections are in data center site selection, as well.

Get the new special report, Five Things To Know About Data Center Site Selection, courtesy of Stack Infrastructure, to learn more about how to successfully approach the data center site selection process. 

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