Things To Consider When Planning A Build-To-Suit Data Center Facility

You may ask – “what is a build-to-suit data center? And should my company embark on this path, or lease capacity in an existing colocation data center?”

A build-to-suit data center is a custom facility that is designed and built specifically for your company. Designing and constructing a build-to-suit data center is complex and requires much collaboration, but the end result will be exactly what you need to match your requirements.

There are several reasons why your company might want to consider a build-to-suit facility:

  1. Customization:  There are hundreds of individual factors that determine the attributes of a data center – geography, size, design, resiliency just to name a few. Off the shelf existing facilities may not meet your business needs.
  2. Speed to Market:  It’s very important for some companies to have online IT capacity ahead of skyrocketing business growth. A build-to-suit solution may deliver in a shorter timeframe than starting from scratch on your own.
  3. CapEx vs. OpEx:  In lieu of investing hundreds of millions of dollars on a capitalized spend (CAPEX), it makes sense to pass through the lease of a facility as an operational capitalized spend (OPEX)
  4. Expertise:  Unless designing and building data centers is your primary business, data center providers have a core competency of building data center facilities.  It frequently makes sense to let the experts deliver the solution.

Advantages of a Build-To-Suit Data Center

A build-to-suit data center gives you the advantages of a private, dedicated data center, with far less capital and operational expense. In building your facility, the data center provider takes on all the construction costs. Once it is complete, the provider owns the facility – but your company leases and occupies it as if it were your own private data center.  In many cases, the data center provider will operate the facility for you, providing on-site security and maintenance teams.

Elements to Consider in Planning a Build-To-Suit Data Center

In designing a build-to-suit data center, you work with the data center provider to establish your requirements for the facility. It’s a complex collaborative process, but it helps to ensure that the facility is built to serve your business needs.

Here is a list of basic questions you should consider when planning a build-to-suit data center.

Define the Purpose

Are you building this facility to host IT servers for mission-critical operations, backup data storage, public/hybrid cloud services, social media, eCommerce, high-security financial transactions, HPC and big data applications? Your overall purpose will influence all the other decisions you make, everything from IT power needs to security and operations requirements.


Some companies require that a facility must be located within easy driving distance of the business location(s) that will be utilizing the servers housed there. Other companies don’t mind having an out-of-state data center, as long as there is a nearby airport that allows personnel to fly into that location and check their servers when necessary.  Also, some geographies offer significant sales and/or property tax incentives.

Physical Structure

Companies should look at the physical location and natural disaster risk that may occur in that location when analyzing their structure design.  Building size will be driven by total critical power and design density of IT infrastructure.

Electrical Capacity

Determining the size and electrical capacity of your build-to-suit facility involves capacity planning. You should look ahead and estimate (1) the size of your initial IT footprint, (2) the number of IT servers you plan to add to this facility over the next 5-10 years, and (3) how much space, power, and cooling you will need to keep pace with the growth of your IT footprint in this facility.

A typical design density for today’s data centers is 150 watts per square foot, meaning your facility will provide 150 watts of power for every square foot of space in your data hall. However, with increasing power demands for high-capacity IT infrastructure, many companies are asking for higher power densities, such as 225 watts per square foot.

The lower your density, the bigger the building footprint will be; the higher your density, the smaller the building footprint.


The electrical capacity and facility location will drive the cooling design.  The overall goal is to design an energy efficient facility with a low PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness).


Your electrical and mechanical redundancy strategy will depend on how much of your IT footprint you want to remain operational in the event of a power outage. A build-to-suit facility can be constructed with multiple redundancy features, including dual power feeds from separate utilities, dual UPS systems, backup power generators, backup cooling units, etc.  The redundancy of a facility helps with the facility “Uptime” (i.e. servers never fail).  The data center industry defines the “Uptime” in Tiers – Tier I, II, III, IV.  Tier I = 99.671% Uptime; Tier II = 99.749% Uptime; Tier III = 99.982% Uptime; Tier IV = 99.995% Uptime.


Define the overall fiber connectivity strategy.  Analyze which carriers are in the specific location. Do you need cloud on-ramp access?

Life Safety

Analyze life safety requirements (i.e. fire suppression, etc.)


Physical security is a critical component of data centers. Determine how many concentric rings of security are required.  This means, how many physical barriers (i.e. card readers, etc.) are required prior to entering the data hall.


Determine what certifications are required for this facility, including government compliance certifications (i.e. HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, PCI).


Establish what the overall financial strategy is for the business.  What can the business afford to spend to maintain facility Uptime?   What are the factors that decide the ongoing operational budget for the data center?

Why T5 should be your Build-to-Suit Partner

In planning and constructing a build-to-suit facility, T5 Data Centers takes a collaborative approach to working with our customers. Our Data Center Construction Group meets with representatives from various departments (i.e. architectural, networking, security) within the clients’ organization. Using the questions listed above, we help our clients define the features and elements that they will require in their facility.

Through a series of planning meetings with our clients, our designers and engineers develop a floor plan and a “Basis of Design” document, which describes the architectural and mechanical features of the build-to-suit facility. From there, we develop a more detailed “Design Development” package, which we review and revise several times with the client’s input. Once the designs are refined to the point where the construction team can obtain a permit from local jurisdiction, we begin building the facility.

During the construction phase, our engineers have weekly collaborative meetings with the client’s representatives, and monthly meetings with client executives at the data center construction site, to talk about the facility’s progress. We also work with the client through the commissioning process, and through the transition to set up operations crew and security staff.

With build-to-suit data centers, our goal is to build a successful facility that meets the client’s requirements for housing their IT footprint. That’s why we enlist the client’s ongoing participation in the design, construction, and commissioning process. When the facility is complete and operational, we want the client to feel like it’s their  building.

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