Of all the data center markets throughout North America, Northern Virginia (NoVa) has consistently been the most active due in large part to its history. In the early 1990s, the region played a crucial role in the development of the internet infrastructure, which naturally drew a high concentration of data center operators who could connect to many networks in one place [1].

NoVa–and especially Loudoun County, Virginia–was made for data centers. With its abundant fiber, inexpensive and reliable power, rich water supply in an area that does not experience droughts, and attractive tax incentive programs, it’s ideal for many data center clients [2].

There are more than 40 data centers located in Loudoun County–and the majority are in “Data Center Alley,” which boasts a high concentration of data centers and supports about half of the country’s Internet traffic [2]. With more than 4.5 million square feet of data center space available and a projected 10 million square feet by 2021, Ashburn, Virginia data centers continue to lead the pack [2]. As Ashburn becomes the site of some of the industry’s most progressive energy-saving initiatives and connectivity infrastructure developments, there’s no doubt that the region will continue to be a market to watch.

Recently, an increase in competition has been driving technology and innovations throughout the NoVa data center colocation market. With such a competitive landscape, Southland’s clients are looking at all aspects of their mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) designs to differentiate themselves from the competition. By looking holistically at our clients’ priorities, Southland evaluates various factors during system comparisons and allows each client to choose the right mechanical and electrical systems to achieve their overall goals and optimize success. As Southland begins to work with more and more data center clients, we see ten common aspects they consider in their analysis of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.

1. First Cost
When businesses turn to a colocation provider, and the fiscal benefits of such strategies are only increasing, first costs become a primary motivation. A recent study explained that rising competition in the colocation sector is leading to price declines in leasing and creating an extremely client-friendly environment.

2. Energy Efficiency
Because power consumption directly drives operating costs, energy efficiency is a big concern for many businesses. Choosing a data center that integrates the latest technologies and architecture can help minimize environmental impacts. Innovations like highly efficient cooling plants and leveraging medium voltage electrical distribution systems can help reduce the amount of energy needed to power the building, resulting in a lower Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE).

3. Reliability
To avoid financial and business repercussions in the case of a planned or unplanned outage, reliability is a must. If going offline for even a few minutes will have significant financial and business repercussions, then employing MEP solutions that have backup options available in case of a planned or unplanned outage is a must.

4. Flexibility
Flexibility with scaling systems has been an attractive strategy, particularly with colocation providers. Adaptability to multiple clients for phasing and making sure design provisions are made so the construction of a new phase can occur without downtime in active phases. Flexibility is a key component when it comes to meeting your business objectives because it allows your needs to be accommodated at any given time.

5. Redundancy
Providing continuous operations through all foreseeable circumstances, such as power outages and equipment failure, is necessary to ensure a data center’s reliability. Redundant systems that are concurrently maintainable provide peace of mind that the client’s infrastructure is protected.

6. Maintainability
Clients want systems that are easily maintainable to be able to ensure their critical assets are running at full speed. The system sections should be focused on operational excellence in order to protect customers’ critical power load and cooling resources.

7. Speed to Market
Clients’ leases usually hinge on having timely inventory. Clients expect a fast- tracked, constructible design that is coordinated and installed in a timely manner. Through the integrated design-build model, long lead items can be pre-purchased in parallel with designs being completed and coordinated.

8. Scalability
Scalability and speed to market go hand in hand. It’s vital to understand that system infrastructure choices early in design can affect equipment lead times and installation durations for future phases. Also, in order to provide control and save operational costs during a period of accelerated MEP growth, systems need to be easily scalable to fast-track additional growth.

9. Sustainability
Customers benefit from solar power, reclaimed water-based cooling systems, waterless cooling technologies, and much more. Water is becoming a larger consideration with mechanical system selections. The enormous volume of water required to cool high-density server farms with mechanical systems is making water management a growing priority for data center operators. A 15-megawatt data center can use up to 360,000 gallons of water per day. Clients recognize that sustainability is not only good for the environment, but is also good for their bottom line.

10. Design Tolerances
Since 2011, new temperature and humidity guidelines have helped rethink the design of data centers. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are being designed with different limits. That has resulted in more and more innovations with MEP systems within mission critical facilities.

As Southland continues to see the data center market grow in NoVa, we also see innovations grow throughout the industry. While each of our clients may want or need different systems for their data center campus, Southland knows each of these elements must be considered to ensure a successful facility.

What other aspects are there to consider for data center clients? Let us know in the comments!


  1. http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2016/05/24/data-center-market-spotlight-northern-virginia/
  2. http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2014/09/25/n-virginia-set-to-become-biggest-data-center-market-by-2015/



  • Mark A. Kosin

    Vice President, Business Team Leader for Mid-Atlantic Division

    As a Business Team Leader for Southland’s Mid-Atlantic Division, Mark Kosin has oversight and overall responsibility for all projects within his business unit. With more than 25 years of experience, Mark’s expertise includes a variety of markets including data centers, federal, commercial, mixed-use, healthcare, and higher education.

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