Five ways to manage risk in a global data center portfolio

Strengthening the backbone of the digital economy requires a holistic view of your facilities

As our digital economy increasingly relies on the real-time exchange of information, demand for data centers continues to reach new heights. Data center development hit new records in 2021, with the construction pipeline hitting 727 megawatts (MW) in the U.S., 274.5 MW in Europe and 188 MW in India.

We also saw merger and acquisition (M&A) activity ramp up last year, with many of the larger data center operators announcing major deals.

As the larger players continue to expand their footprints, this is an appropriate time to explore what it takes to manage a global data center portfolio successfully. After all, growth brings not only opportunity but also risk.

In recent years data center outages shut down airlines, retailers and more. These events attract widespread media attention, posing significant reputational threats.

Managing risk across an extensive data center portfolio requires a unique combination of on-site expertise and global coordination. Here are five key elements I have found are essential: 

1. Deep local expertise

When you manage data center facilities across the globe, extensive knowledge of each region of your operations is critical. Regulatory requirements and legislation vary widely in different geographies. Some countries have strict environmental rules governing emissions and power consumption; others have licensing standards for data center technicians. For example, a moratorium on the construction of new data centers in both Amsterdam and Singapore was issued in 2019. While Singapore lifted the full ban earlier this year, its government will be more selective of new construction based on resource efficiency.

Knowing the regulatory landscape—including planned legislative changes that could affect data center operations in the future—is crucial to managing facilities effectively.

2. A playbook of consistent processes

Anyone remotely familiar with the data center industry understands that delivering uptime and minimizing risk should be your number one priority.

Establshing a global playbook for operational consistency is the best way to ensure smooth service delivery across a global portfolio. A playbook provides consistent protocols for all maintenance activities, minimizing the risk of interruptions and restoring systems if an outage does occur. A global playbook can also facilitate consistent delivery of the other services needed to keep data centers running smoothly, like security, cleaning, fabric maintenance and more.

3. Localized recruiting plan

Hiring the right people to run your facilities is key to maintaining uptime, but talent shortages plague the sector. According to the Uptime Institute, data centers will need 2.11 million full-time employees globally in 2022 and about 2.3 million by 2025. While the demand for talent is universal, I’ve noticed more nuanced challenges in various geographies. 

Unsurprisingly, operators face fierce competition in well-established data center markets, like Seattle and Virginia in the U.S. and Frankfurt, London and Amsterdam in Europe. The pool of qualified candidates is larger in these cities, but recruiting and retaining staff where demand is high can be a challenge.

As those “Tier 1” regions become increasingly crowded and expensive, undersea cables and new fiber are increasing connectivity in emerging markets like Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya—bringing data center facilities to new locations. In these less saturated “Tier 2” markets, data center owners and operators don’t have a large pool of experienced talent to tap. Data center operators can help build a solid pipeline of talent by sponsoring trade schools and associations involved in training the next generation of workers.

4. Robust training programs

No matter where your data centers are located, senior leadership needs to prioritize training. Data centers rely on sophisticated equipment, which requires weekly, monthly and annual maintenance. The more skilled your technicians and managers are, the more of these tasks they can perform independently. A highly skilled on-site team can cut your reliance on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and other vendors to maintain or repair equipment.

A consistent, effective training program can help close skills gaps on your teams, reducing risk and optimizing operations.

5. Relationships with experienced partners

Last but not least, partnerships can be integral to success when managing a global portfolio of data centers. An experienced data center facilities management partner can:

  • Provide a global operating playbook to enable consistent delivery of facility management services across all sites 
  • Establish consistent standards for business protocols and procedures
  • Connect to local networks and expertise in areas where you don’t have an established presence
  • Leverage existing relationships with equipment manufacturers to provide coverage all over the world

As data center professionals, we play an essential role in maintaining the backbone of the digital economy. When your operations team strikes the right balance of local knowledge and global consistency, you’ll make great strides toward reducing risk and keeping the global exchange of data flowing freely.

To learn more about JLL’s data center facilities management, click here.