Building and Operating Data Centers – A Real Estate Perspective

By Andres F. Nieto, Global Market Manager – Industrial Real Estate, SGS


Andres F. Nieto


Market insights and models are forecasting growth for the data centre infrastructure market. Figures point at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of about 7 to 11 percent in the next 10 years, which will be accentuated by the COVID 19 crisis.

Attractive investment vs. high energy consumption

The market outlook makes the sector attractive for real estate investors seeking to obtain consistent long-term returns. But as data centres are unique for their high-energy consumption, owners and operators alike are mindful of the risks associated with their energy requirements.

A simple example puts things in perspective: U.S. data centres alone were projected to consume approximately 73 billion kWh in 2020. This is equivalent to the annual energy consumption of 7 million of average American households.

Energy management

Design, construction and operation of data centres are therefore pivotal for both a successful climate change risk management strategy and the identification of climate-change related opportunities. Data centres with efficient energy management strategies and proven sustainable use of resources stand up against public scrutiny.

Today’s trend is towards sustainable construction and operation, based on design and build beyond mandatory, and increasingly strict, compliance requirements. Green building schemes that also account for and minimize embodied carbon provide a solution to the new challenges.

Increased building standards

Data center asset values are linked to the high level of complexity in operational set-up which leads to increased building quality standards related to building resilience. For instance, data centres have stricter requirements on impenetrability levels for walls and facades, more stringent anti-seismic standards and increased physical, power supply and connectivity security needs.

Identifying and controlling risk

Additional to the energy requirement focus, we should not forget that these buildings are meant to house state-of-the-art technology that requires precise conditions to ensure flawless operations 24/7. From an operational standpoint, great attention is reqruied to identify and control risks, such as:

  • Temperature control and HVAC system performance
  • Buildings’ structural health, and disaster readiness and response
  • Variety of vibration, electromagnetic, fire, electrical and failure analysis, and inspections to ensure proper design and function of critical systems

Data centres appear to arise in the middle of the perfect storm. On the one hand an increased need for data management infrastructure becomes an increasingly important asset for organizations. On the other hand, global commitments on climate neutrality and greener economies need to be addressed in building design and operations.

The way forward will be marked by an increased collaboration of different experts and stakeholders, not only tasked to deliver the required infrastructure capacity and attractiveness for investors, but to navigate a fast-changing regulatory landscape.