The growth of data center (DC) projects in Ireland has been the focus of much attention in recent years. With 21st century life becoming more interconnected, the data that facilitates the connections requires more and more storage. As time goes on, more data centers are built, while demand for periodic upgrades to existing facilities continues to grow.

This evolving concept brings its own set of challenges for the industry to take on, according to Brendan Coffey of Kirby Group Engineering, who has set out three areas which he says require the close attention of those involved in the sector.

Labor and skilled workforce availability

Construction and maintenance of these ever more complex structures will be a significant feature of the engineering industry for many years to come. Which prompts the question - who will do this work?

As demand for data centers grows, the expansion of other sectors, including semiconductor and pharma/life sciences, is putting an additional squeeze on the supply of talent.

The good news is that engineering careers remain popular for new entrants to the market. Ireland’s Central Applications Office figures show that well over 20,000 people have applied for related courses each year of late, while apprenticeships – historically a valuable and vital source of talent for us at Kirby – are growing in popularity, with a record number of applications in 2023.

However, the changing profile and demands of workers themselves are an interesting feature of the current labor market. The expectations of today’s entrants to the workforce are worlds away from my contemporaries in the early 2000s. I have witnessed how a preference for contract work, rather than employee status, is an increasingly common feature among this demographic.

From the point of view of an employer, this could present a challenge. This company, which is celebrating 60 years in business in 2024, has a well-earned reputation for investing in the establishment of valuable relationships with clients, from smaller enterprises right up to global leading multinationals. Our projects are never viewed in isolation; each is one thread in our developing engagement with that customer.

For example, Kirby has sizable multi-disciplinary teams working in the greater Dublin region. At the core of these teams are long-term colleagues who have worked together across a range of DC projects, from small retrofit upgrades in live DCs to hyperscale projects. They form a trusted link in the supply chain, which has the ability to mobilize quickly and deliver projects for Kirby customers without sacrificing on quality.

Their experience and skills are vital parts of our client offering, which we and our partners know we can rely on. I have no doubt many contract workers offer expert skills and knowledge, but the innate understanding of how a company does business that comes from experience is an added quality that sets Kirby’s employees apart.

Increasing demand for data processing and storage

The expanding DC market has sparked intense competition in recent years. There are approximately 80 live data centers in the greater Dublin region, with more either under construction or with planning approval. Contractors that succeed in this sector are those which can offer rapid turnaround without compromising on value and/or quality.

Kirby is a major proponent of prefabrication and offsite manufacturing and has been investing heavily in these areas in recent years. Scalability is a vital part of data center planning and modularization is an excellent solution for this.

By employing OSM best practices, we are able to reduce our onsite labor hours. This ultimately allows us to enhance safety, maintain our quality standards and maximize labor efficiencies while meeting aggressive program demands.

Key to the success of this approach is the preconstruction phase, so early engagement with the Client, Design team, and OFCI vendors are critical. This allows our Operations, BIM and Commissioning teams every opportunity for collaborative input and charts the most efficient path to project delivery.

I’m a big believer in the value of the ‘last planner’ concept for these projects. These workshops form the pillars of a successful collaborative project, but they must be adhered to rigidly throughout the project life cycle. Rigorous stress testing and reviews throughout the process which involve all parties will set teams up for success and a lean tagging schedule in the commissioning period.


It’s in the interest of all stakeholders to manage the demands placed on resources by data center campuses. The level of regulation here and Europe-wide is increasing - for example, new EC rules later this year will require data center operators to submit KPIs to a database for the first time. Optimum energy efficiency combined with operational excellence is the goal for our customers and Kirby is dedicated to achieving this.

LEED certification is becoming a regular feature of the construction requirements here and abroad, with the green building system now in use in 186 countries worldwide. At Kirby, we see this as a useful tool and guide for our customers to assure them of how seriously we take our responsibilities.

At Kirby, we adhere to the project prerequisites set out to achieve LEED certification. We do this by:

  • Maximizing modularization & utilizing our local OSM facilities
  • Locally sourcing materials
  • Minimizing packaging & using biodegradable packaging where possible
  • Reducing our energy and water consumption (e.g. using side stream filtration during flushing of pipework systems)

Kirby’s drive towards digitization, offsite manufacturing and energy saving measures means we’re ideally placed to meet the increasing demand for data storage while minimizing the impact on the local environment.

As data centers become an ever more integral element of business, I believe we’re ideally positioned to face these challenges of labor supply, increasing demand and sustainability. A commitment to our core values of ‘People, Safety, Quality, Delivery, and Value’ has already served Kirby well as it thrives in an industry that has transformed many times over. As the company marks the milestone of 60 years in business, I have no doubt that it will continue to put Kirby at the cutting edge of engineering for many decades to come.