The data center industry has adapted to weather the demands of the pandemic in 2020, and learnt new techniques that will become normal practice in years to come, the DCD>Virginia event heard today.

Demand for capacity has surged this year, and building projects have continued, despite changes required during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the opening panel of the online-only Datacenter Dynamics event. Even as society emerges from lockdown in 2021, techniques such as virtual site visits and well-stocked supply chains will be needed to maintain the momentum and keep building digital infrastructure, said speakers.

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Can't stop the building

A tactic of holding inventory in the supply chain has paid off for hyperscale data center builder Aligned Energy, said Phill Lawson-Shanks, chief innovation officer: "The industry has developed a cycle of construction, acquisition, and consumption, but that’s gone out of the window this year. It’s just accelerated. A couple of years ago, we bought 50MW of capacity - generators, UPS, and switchgear. Our manufacturing partners hold that on site for us so we can draw it down when we need it. This year, we were able to draw down from our existing supply chain in a constantly refreshing cycle. We’ve been drawing down and our suppliers have been moving it up. There’s only so many units on the market, so to have that ready supply is very important to us."

Aligned has also experimented with new construction - for instance using aluminum panels instead of pre-formed concrete in a Salt Lake City project: "That's excellent for sustainability [because of the carbon footprint of concrete], and it also enables us to build very, very quickly."

Planning, and government co-operation, was crucial for Digital Realty, according to Erich Sanchack, VP operations at Digital Realty: "We have business continuity plans, and they were already in place before the shelter-in-place orders. We had to work closely with our construction partners, and one of the key elements in allowing the supply chain to keep flowing was support from local govs including the US Government to allow our employees to keep those projects going."

Keeping customers like that supplied with the equipment they needed was Schneider Electric's mission and that needed a global operation, and greater use of virtual technologies, said Claudia Massey, VP of business operations: "We’re used to having customers come into factories for witness tests," she explained. To do that virtually, customers dialed into a platform to see the witness test online.

Aligned also used video visits, for instance setting up HD cameras so customers could see what Aligned's technicians can see on the site: "Our staff can walk around with a 360-degree camera on a stick. The customer can look over their shoulder," he said. "Customers like to see sites before they purchase, so in March we instituted virtual tours with HD video."

The data center industry is benefitting from a cataclysmic change in society where virtualization has accelerated due to the pandemic, said Sanchack: "The pandemic was a forcing function to drive digital transformation initiatives. We now have a society which is remote-everything and data centers are the nerve center."

The DCD>Virginia event continues till Thursday, when it concludes with DCD's global Awards event.