Adam Torres and Sara Martin discuss data center design.
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Data centers can be designed to minimize energy consumption and contribute to a greener, more sustainable future. In this episode, Adam Torres and Sara Martin, Market Sector Leader at HED, explore data center design key considerations and best practices for ensuring scalability and flexibility to accommodate future changes in equipment and facilities.
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At HED, great design is about thinking creatively to overcome challenges and improve real world outcomes. HED firm has a long history and reputation for excellence because they believe that all the facets of their design, from architecture, consulting, engineering, and planning, must create a positive impact for our clients, the community, and the world through responsive, innovative, and sustainable design solutions. This belief has allowed our firm to succeed and grow in a broad range of markets in eight U.S. offices (Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Sacramento).
Full Unedited Transcript
Hey, I’d like to welcome you to another episode of Mission Matters. My name is Adam Torres, and if you’d like to apply to be a guest in the show, just head on over to mission matters.com and click on Be Our Guest to Apply. All right, so today we have Sarah Martin on the line, and she’s a market sector leader over at H E D.
Sarah, welcome to the show. Thanks, Adam. Really excited to be here. All right, Sarah. So we’re gonna be talking data centers today, how to be greener and more efficient and excited to bring that content to my audience. And just to get us kicked off, we’re gonna start this episode the way that we start them all with what we like to call our mission matters minute.
So Sarah, we at Mission Matters, we amplify stories for entrepreneurs, executives, and experts. That’s our mission. Sarah, what mission matters to you? So I work for h e d, which is an architecture and engineering company. We’ve had about, I don’t know, decades of experience in the mission critical sector and both for myself and the company, we really care about client focused design and, and ensuring that we are meeting.
The goals and the intent of what the client needs and, and ultimately their product. So essentially that ranges from, you know, is it a new developer who’s new to the, the data center world all the way through to the hyperscalers and making sure that depending on what they need and, and how long the partnership has existed continuing to push the boundaries.
And, you know, you mentioned sustainability specifically. Mm-hmm. How do we continue to push the data center world to be More and more inefficient and focusing on the sustainability goals as we are, you know, one of the larger power consumption industries in, in the world. So that’s great. First off, and love bringing mission-based individuals on the line to share, you know, why they do what they do, how they’re doing it, and really how it makes a difference.
And lot, I, I’m just curious though, a lot of different things you could have done, architecture design my senior background. I’m just curious what drew you or what fascinated you about the idea of working with, with data centers. Like what was that pull. Honestly, I graduated architecture school and I have a family who’s very engineering based and I knew that I wanted to do something slightly different than what I had gone to school for, but I didn’t really know what that, that was.
And I came across, our company used to be integrated design group and. Merged five or so years back with h e d and they were primarily just data center designers at that point in time. And I kind of was like, oh, that seems cool. Right? You know, it’s a different. Different design type, right?
Yeah. Because you’re not really designing for a person, you’re designing essentially a massive computer. Yeah. So to me that was, it was just a really cool overlap between engineering and architecture. And I was lucky enough to get a position as an assistant PM at the company and have been able to, Wear multiple hats through more the management side of things and be able to, you know, be the person who’s asking the question of, Hey, why’d you, why’d you do that that way?
Or, what about this? Mm-hmm. And, and not necessarily always have to be the expert in each individual thing, but help kind of push the boundaries from that side of things. So I. It’s kind of, yeah, it, it’s kind of, it’s fascinating to me because the, what you said too, it’s like, I mean, to think about it as an architect, it just design, it’s to say you’re not doing it for the people, you’re doing it for the computer.
So it’s a little bit, it’s it’s different, isn’t it? Yeah. Yeah. It’s, it’s a completely different it’s a completely different mindset. I mean, it’s not to say that, you know, of course great offices can’t do it right, but it’s just, Less way of looking at it. I kind of wanna start with this, with this thought process, because I don’t wanna assume that everybody understands this mission critical sector.
Like, like, could you help define that for me? Yeah. So mission critical sector is basically anything that has a. If it were to go down, there’d be a major issue, right? From a financially usually it’ll impact to that company. Mm-hmm. So, you know, for example, Microsoft, when they have a massive outage or meta, when they have a massive, massive outage, all of us notice on our phones when, you know, you can’t open Instagram or it’s not loading or all that kind of stuff.
Realistically result in dollar, dollar signs, right? Mm-hmm. So it’s, it’s anything that falls within that. So there are, you know, other sectors that have aspects of that, like hospitals, they have mission critical aspects of it. But typically when people say mission critical, it’s more towards the data center world.
There’s some other kind of smaller sub sectors within that, but primarily data centers. Hmm. And so now take, I guess taking it a step further, I mean, when we think about the amount of computing and computing power that’s out there and the amount that’s needed for, let’s just say these next steps of wherever we’re going, whether it’s autonomous vehicles, whether it’s, I mean all these other things that, just massive amount of computing power, I feel like the need for data centers and the increasing footprint of them, like over the next years, like it’s not getting smaller, is it?
No. If you look at any of the major projections for any of the, the hyperscaler clients, as I was just mentioning, you know, the Amazons, Googles Metas of the world. Mm-hmm. Their projections are doubling, if not tripling over the next few years. Wow. So especially with ai, there’s gonna be a significant increase in power consumption.
It’s just somewhat the reality of AI in that it’s a lot of compute, power processing, a lot of storage. So essentially you have something with a very, very high power draw and then a slightly less power draw surrounding it to be able to, you know, solve all these different problems that these companies are, are working on.
Hmm. So, I mean, you combine the, the trend, the need for more, knowing that it’s gonna take on more. I mean, I, if I was to kind of look at a, an older example of I thinking of like railroads or something, like early years in our country, right? Like, you knew it was gonna get bigger. You knew it was gonna get bigger.
You knew that the infrastructure was going to continue. There’s gonna be more demand as the country was building out west, like you knew that. Now, ideally, in a perfect world where. A little bit further along. So now we have, we know a look, we know more about the environment and the constraints and, and also we are thinking more in a greener and eco-friendly manner.
So just understanding, you know, back then we knew the buildup was going to continue to happen. So just like right now, like we’re not gonna need less computing power in the near future. So why is this concept of being greener or more efficient, like, why is that relevant? Why does it matter? So I don’t remember the exact statistic off the top of my head, but is something along the lines of the data centers, you know, take up more power than the rest of the country alone.
Right. So, wow. You add up all the other, other facilities and then you compare that to the data centers. It’s, you know, if it’s not, if it hasn’t surpassed it yet, it, it will over the next few years. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So that just inherently Right. Becomes a conversation of, mm-hmm. Okay. Well if this is such a huge power consumption issue, what do we do?
The thing that I would think is a huge misunderstanding from mm-hmm. From the community is that data centers are inherently very efficient. And you compare ’em to other data or other building typologies. Mm-hmm. They’re efficient. In the sense that their systems are designed to be, you know, do exactly what they need to do.
There’s not all this wiggle room when it comes to, mm-hmm. Oh, you know, your mechanical system might, might not be the most efficient. System type of thing. And that’s because, you know, data centers are expensive. So from, from the beginning people have been looking at how do we cool this with the least amount of power drop?
Or how do we make sure that our, you know, programs that are going into these computers are as efficient as they can be to not take up, you know, megawatts of power. So inherently there’s already that kind of. Design parameter and push. Mm-hmm. But still, when you’re looking at it, you need to be able to, one, be looking at the future of, okay, we’re now gonna have higher density racks, which mm-hmm.
Does have efficiencies in, in sustainability narratives around it, because as opposed to having, you know, an entire row, that would be mm-hmm. I dunno, 50 megawatts. Sorry, not megawatts, kilowatts, mm-hmm. Now you’re looking more towards, you know, hundreds of, of kilowatts hours in Wow. In a single cabinet type of thing.
Right. So in a lot of ways, while people may not necessarily understand that, that does translate to less building infrastructure around. Mm-hmm. The same, the same quantity of compute power. And they’re doing that through all these different efficiencies and chipped manufacturing. So that’s a great, you know, moving in the right direction.
The biggest thing when it comes to data center design for us is really the, the tipping point for liquid cooling. And it sounds like that’s coming over the next couple of years. And so that’ll bring the cooling directly to the chip. Which inherently, you’re not cooling the air anymore, you’re cooling the chip itself.
So that heat rejection isn’t, you know, the, the issue that we’ve had previously. So yeah, there’s, there’s a lot of things that are kind of being developed and worked around around that. The one that I’m like really curious to see where, who’s gonna be kind of the winner on is mm-hmm. You know, new.
Power generation options, right? So there’s a couple that are looking at nuclear power, which, you know, there’s a number of nuclear plants across the country that aren’t being utilized right now. So a lot of ways tying that to a data center seems to make sense. There’s some, some things around that from a reliability standpoint that I think it’s, it’s all gonna kind of need to be worked through.
And Somewhat more understood, right? Because it’s new and so there’s, mm-hmm. There’s the concern around, okay, well how reliable are these plants and all these things. But I think that’s gonna be somewhere that you’re, maybe it’s not your, your. Most important data that you put there. Mm-hmm. Maybe it’s a second tier and then you tie it to that and you’re, you know, offsetting your power consumption through utilizing a different power source and not tapping into the grid directly type of thing.
Mm-hmm. It seems to me, and it seems to me like any of the number of things you brought up a moment ago, especially the cooling, the chip option, like these are like the, as as this technology gets better it has the opportunity to create some, some, some real change there so that even some of the current infrastructures that are there, they may be able to even be able to be optimized more.
Am I, am I off? Am I understanding that right? I just wanna make sure I’m clear. Yeah. You’re a hundred percent understanding that, right. It’s gonna be it’s gonna be really interesting to see what happens with existing data centers. Mm-hmm. So there’s a lot of, you know, historical data centers that have been out there for 10 or so years.
Right. And in the lease world, that usually means that. They might be looking at their tenant leaving because yeah, not the most efficient system, or it’s only getting you 1200 ki k like kilowatts instead of megawatts that people are buying now. So that’s very possible that you’re gonna see some shift in that.
We’ve been kind of watching that market for a bit now, and we haven’t seen the tipping point that we, we were expecting, but There is an option there, right? Or there’s an opportunity there of mm-hmm. Now that you have direct to chip cooling is their ability to bring in more power to those locations, into that Yeah.
That room, essentially to get more out of it. The one thing that I think is gonna be interesting there is, you know, how do you, how do you increase your, your power consumption because, You know, all mm-hmm. All this equipment takes up a decent amount space, right? So does that mean you’re stacking your generators and getting creative with things like that?
But I, I think they’re, I think things are gonna happen there. It’s just a matter of when type of thing. Yeah. Yeah. It’s fascinating ’cause it’s like each one of the, I mean, if it’s each puzzle piece, right? Like and how the resources and build up what, whatever’s there, what, how can you maximize that? And then I guess talk to me about the, the next piece, which is the, the scalability side of things as, as.
You know, demand continues to increase as technology, obviously, as you mentioned, has already is, you know, people are trying really hard. A lot of smart people are trying really hard to, to push the envelope on the technology side of things. But I mean, I guess talk to me a little bit about how these intertwine and these become somewhat scalable as we, as the demand for these data centers just increases.
Yeah. So as a company we. Have what we call a kit of parts, essentially. So they’re kind of for the kind of simplifying, oversimplifying it, they’re, they’re blocks, right? So mm-hmm. It’s a matter of, all right, we want X amount of megawatts in this facility, so we’re gonna. Put that into megawatt chunks, which typically aligns well with your, your generator sizing and develop layouts around that chunk.
And so one of the things that is beneficial with that is the ability for what we were just talking about with the scalability and the flexibility. So we have a client that we’ve worked with for years and we were involved with their first, you know, kind of data center prototype. At that point it was about a 1200 kw facility each, each.
Room within their, their data center. So with the start of that campus, it was the 1200 kw and by the end of it, it was Wow. A 3,200 kw. So, and that’s, that was four buildings, and then their next campus was a six megawatt. So, wow. It’s kind of using that kind of kit of parts to be able to ensure that you’re setting it up and you’re, you’re, you’re.
Space spacing within your building and all that is gonna be able to take on this flexibility. So that you can say, okay, well, you know, this tenant actually wants 12 megawatts. Do we make this one, build one room now instead of two? And, and how do you work through those types of things? So being able to have that kit of parts to lean on to do your initial master planning and make sure that you have enough.
Of the knowhow and your design team is the right design team to be able to say, okay, well you’re gonna need, you know, roughly this much space for your u p s room, this for your crack galleries, or whatever it is. To really be able to kind of build in that buffer for flexibility in the future, but mm-hmm.
You know, it’s a fine line, right? You don’t, you don’t want these facilities to be massive and then now you’re spending exponentially more money just. To be able to buy for the future. So yeah, it’s a, it’s a, the product that we’ve kind of developed for years and we’re continuing to utilize with clients to build out the best thing that kind of suits their needs type of thing.
Hmm. Well, Sarah, I have to say it has been great having you on this show today. I came in as a novice. Now if I’m at a dinner party or somewhere else, I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be acting like I know about data center management. I’m be like, I had, I had Sarah. I had Sarah on this show. Let me tell you something.
All right. No. No, this is in all sincerity. This is awesome. It’s been a great education for me. And I, and I will be using this this knowledge just in my day to day. And I hope my audience, everybody that’s listening that maybe didn’t know that some, some are listening, they’re like, they’re, I’m sure they’re just as fascinated as myself.
That being said, Sarah, I know we just barely, you know, scratched the surface on your knowledge and all. So what h e d is doing. If somebody wants to, you know, follow up, follow the h e d journey and and just learn more and, and, and digest more content, I mean, what’s the best way for them to connect?
The easiest way to get ahold of me directly would be through LinkedIn and I am Sarah Martin. And there’s plenty of Sarah Martins in the world, so definitely look for the one with h e d. And then you can also reach out through our website, which is HD design. And I’m based outta the Boston office, so you just connect through there.
Oh, fantastic. And we’ll be sure to put all the, the show that in the show notes so that the audience can just click on the website link and, and head right on over. And speaking of the website and and the audience, if this is your first time with Mission Matters or engaging in an episode, or we’re all, we’re a platform that’s all about bringing on business owners, executives, entrepreneurs, and having them share their story, the projects they’re working on.
You know, what matters most? To them and the whole point is for us to all learn and grow together. If that’s the type of content that sounds interesting or fun or exciting to you, we welcome you hit that subscribe button. We have many more mission-based individuals coming up on the line, just like Sarah, and we don’t want you to miss a thing.
Sarah, again, it really has been a pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you so much for having me, Adam. It was great.