Do you consider edge data center build outs greenfield or brownfield?
When the data center industry talks about greenfield build outs, they can be referring to one of two things: either net new construction of a data center - truly greenfield - or a build out in a area of an existing structure that’s been stripped down of any past tenants’ equipment and infrastructure and is ready for a new build out.
Brownfield, on the other hand, is a bit different. In the construction industry, brownfield projects can require first razing an existing structure completely, turning the property into greenfield, vs choosing an already vacant lot to start building. For the data center industry, brownfield doesn't require necessarily going that far, but instead simply means working within an existing footprint and structure to build out data center capacity.
No matter how well prepped an edge data center facility is before you start building out your equipment in it, it is essentially always a brownfield development. And this is why.
Challenges of retrofitting edge data center properties
Edge data centers, as you know, use existing buildings typically in higher populated areas to bring data processing power closer to, generally, the users of the data. They are always smaller than what you’d envision as a data center - the goal here is not scale, but speed and proximity.
There are edge colocation facilities out there with prepped, ready-for-build-out spaces to leverage, but because edge computing is still new, the market is immature. Furthermore, a software company might need an edge data center in any semi-urban environment worldwide; the chances of an existing edge colocation data center set up with room and ready to go is slim. Most companies are starting from scratch as they push their data to the edge, and that means purchasing or renting a facility based on location that was not designed for data center needs and retrofitting it.
This process is not necessarily particularly complicated, but it certainly has a host of challenges that are vastly different from planning and managing greenfield build outs.
With edge data center construction projects, you are not just turning a previously used row or room back into a black slate to accommodate the different technology needs of a new tenant. Rather, you’re starting with an older building - sometimes quite old - in older, urban neighborhoods and ensuring the power, heating, cooling, and airflow systems will be able to handle data center needs.
How to best manage edge data center build outs
For such a project, it's critical to work with project managers who understand edge as well as suppliers who are flexible and offer a variety of customization packages. Every edge data center is going to be a little different; there’s no way to effectively plan for every eventuality. That’s true even for net new data center construction, but even more so in this case.
Whenever possible, modular hardware solutions are the way to go. Purchasing a holistic solution that includes a variety of modular pieces that can be configured as needed on site makes the job much easier.
As far as airflow, cooling, and power systems integration, cabinet-level features are also critical. Regardless of how the power and HVAC system of the building are structured, you can build out your cabinets and containment with cabinet-level airflow systems, cooling systems, and power integration in the way that best suits your data needs.
The industry is still learning best practices around procurement for edge data centers. But the fact is edge computing isn’t a trend, it isn't going away, and it's also no replacing cloud. Software companies, companies that need to push data processing to the edge, and colocation companies need to add a whole new level of expertise around edge data centers to their existing build out project management skill set.
Choosing the right hardware vendor is an important first step in managing any edge data center build out. Cabinet and containment vendors, for example, that offer cabinet-level airflow management systems, like Legrand’s Cross Breeze Rail System, which allows for optimization of airflow and cooling efficiency in a networking cabinet, even when placed in a hot or cold aisle containment environment.
Not every cabinet and containment supplier has options like these, but it’s much easier, and more cost-effective, to leverage these types of technology instead of adding more mechanical cooling to the building itself.