World Wide Work: Data Centers

The 500-ton crane gently lifted the generator 300 ft to the roof of the data center in bustling midtown Manhattan. Down below, Richard Dominy, project manager for Long Island City, N.Y.- based E-J Electric Installation Co., supervised his team as they prepared for the next pick. The 2.6-million sq. ft. former New York Port Authority Building, which sprawls across an entire city block, houses several

The 500-ton crane gently lifted the generator 300 ft to the roof of the data center in bustling midtown Manhattan. Down below, Richard Dominy, project manager for Long Island City, N.Y.- based E-J Electric Installation Co., supervised his team as they prepared for the next pick. The 2.6-million sq. ft. former New York Port Authority Building, which sprawls across an entire city block, houses several data centers. Because the dot-com companies nestled inside the historic building can't afford to go down for a second, an international Web hosting company hired New York City area electrical contractor E-J Electric to install emergency generators.

Dominy said the Web hosting company has added 15 2MW generators for emergency power in the last eight months.

"This whole building is getting loaded with Internet on almost every floor now," Dominy said. "That's why there's so many generators on the roof. This is kind of like a Silicon Alley."

E-J Electric, the oldest independent electrical contractor in the country, worked on one of the first data centers 30 years ago for United Airlines and is now the prime electrical contractor for the former Port Authority building.

President Tony Mann attributed his company's 101-year-old history to being on top of new technology and trends such as data centers.

"Data centers are always a market we've focused on and will continue to focus on," Mann said. "The data center market is one of the fastest-growing markets in the country."

As the prime contractor, E-J is responsible for setting three of the generators, paralleling switchgear for those generators, installing emergency risers to the transfer switches as well as the general construction including a new building, steel and mechanical systems.

Dominy said the owner bought the three generators for a total of $1.5 million and awarded E-J an electrical construction contract of $2 million.

"We've been here since March and expect to be done by the end of July with the engines on, tested and running," Dominy said.

Carlos Lavastida, construction manager for the building, said E-J has done an excellent job with the project.

"I think they are doing a very professional job and are highly organized," Lavastida said. "They provide a very focused, concentrated type of management and supervision."

On a steamy Saturday morning in June, E-J hoisted the generators to the roof of the fourth largest building in New York City. E-J, which has both a power and communications division, had only two days to complete the job.

"We'll work as long as we need to get them up," said Dominy, who left his house at 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday to drive 100 miles from his home in Connecticut to the job site in New York City.

Emergency generators provide backup power E-J Electric rented the largest crane in the world, the Bay Crane, months in advance for the job. For a weekend, the crane cost $120,000. Dominy said

E-J also used the crane when his company hoisted generators to the top of one of the World Trade Center buildings.

"It's busy every weekend," Dominy said. "Unfortunately, the only time you can do this kind of work is on the weekends because you have to shut down the streets to do it."

Electricians, equipment and vehicles filled the street adjacent to the Port Authority building as

E-J prepared to do its first pick at about 10:30 a.m. Dominy said it took his team three hours to erect the crane and would take another four or five hours to pick each of the three generator sets. Unlike many high-rise buildings, the Port Authority building had setbacks, which made it challenging to lift the generators into position.

"If this building was straight up, we wouldn't have to put such a long jib on," Dominy said. "Every time we put the jib out further, the weight capacity of the crane goes down exponentially. That's a 500-ton crane, but with the luffing jib that we have on it, we're restricted to 25,000 lbs. That's like 1/20th of its capacity."

Each generator weighed more than 60,000 lbs., which far exceeded the crane's 25,000-lb. capacity. To solve the problem, the manufacturer shipped the generator in different parts including the 10,000-lb. base, housing, 25,000-lb. engine, 18,000-lb. generator and the muffler.

"If it shifts or it is out of balance or anything, the crane shuts down," Dominy said. "With these, we can only go to the edge of the building. We have three generators, but we can only set this one." Because of the unusual design of the roof, the steel, mechanical and electrical contractors had to work together to construct "channels" and "roller skates" near the edge of the roof.

On the rooftop, Dominy pointed toward a cross-section of steel beams. "The skates sitting on the channel are called roller skates," he explained. "They are what we use to skate the engines over. We put the skates in the channels and slide the engine across."

After taking the house off the generator and setting it in the street, the crane operator lifted the base up, rigged it into position and set it on the skates on the roof. The engine is then jacked up and set on the base followed by the generator. Finally, the house and the muffler are brought up into position for a total of five picks.

"The house is light enough that we swing the house over and set it down, but the engines are so heavy that we had to orient them the other way," Dominy said.

Dominy said the fluid has to be drained from the radiator because of the strict weight limitations. "With the fluid in the radiator, it's more than 25,000 lbs.," Dominy said. "It will have to be filled up later. That's how hairy that pick is."

Along with solving the weight limitations of the crane, the E-J crew also had to deal with New York City's heat and humidity. "Even with this breeze it's hot, especially on the roof," Dominy said. The temperature on the roof was broiling, but inside the building, the air conditioning kept the Internet servers and cabinets cool and comfortable.

Dominy said air conditioning draws most of the power. "On this second floor, they're drawing close to 2,500A," Dominy said. "It's amazing. They are just computers."

Because of all the sensitive electronic equipment in the building, air conditioning was a critical part of the job, Dominy said. "They took out one of the old freight elevators, dropped it down and filled the shaft up with conduit and pipe," he said. "Eventually that whole shaft will be filled with conduit."

Solid as a rock The Port Authority Building, which was born in the 1930s as the headquarters for the Inland Terminal, is now enjoying its second life as the home of several data centers. With its freight elevators, high ceilings and tremendous floor loading, the building provided phone, data and Internet carriers with the perfect opportunity for a data center.

"The Port Authority building is a very strong structural building and can support almost anything," said Kevin McCarthy, principal of Einhorn Yaffee Prescott, an engineering and design firm based in Albany, N.Y. "There's very few buildings any better in the United States. Our client has impeccable design standards and any client would be thrilled to be housed in that facility."

A dot-com company can fall eons behind in the Internet world while waiting for a data center to be designed and built. For that reason, it was more cost-effective to retrofit the Port Authority building than create a new data center from the ground up, McCarthy said. "With these companies, it's all speed to market, McCarthy said. "They can't wait for a building to be built. We do very few data centers that are on green pasture sites where we build the building. It's rare." The Port Authority building, which stretches from Ninth Avenue to Eighth Avenue and Fifteenth Street to Sixteenth Street in the lively area of Chelsea in New York City, was built for the New York Port Authority but later used by warehousing, printing and distribution type facilities for light industrial work. McCarthy said he remembers when his company put Prudential Securities' mail facility on the fourth floor of the building in 1992.

"There were 200,000 sq. ft. of printers and mail insertion machines," McCarthy said. "Every month, they brought in 300 temporary employees to send out statements. Well they're gone. There is a data center on the fourth floor."

Lavastida, the construction manager, said Taconic Investments purchased the building and adapted it for telecom use in 1997. "Today it's probably a preeminent telecom site in New York City," Lavastida said. "It has more than 30 telecom companies in it." The building has extraordinary physical characteristics, which lends itself well to data centers.

"It has extremely high floor loads, wide open spaces in the distance between columns and tremendous riser facilities to install conduit and the various types of piping that are desired for the general infrastructure for telecommunications," he said. "Electrically, the building is serviced by a very large capacity from the utility and due to the very large floor loads, is able to accommodate extensive power facilities for tenants including generators."

The building is also located at a critical junction for fiber in the city, Lavastida said. "New York City is the center of datacommun-ications in the country," Lavastida said. "Essentially, not only because of its position as a gateway for the major corporations around the world, but also because it is the center for media communications, high- technology firms and enterprises."

Booming Data-center market Data centers are popping up not only in New York City, but also across the country. Einhorn Yaffee Prescott's McCarthy, who has been designing data centers for 15 years, said he sees the boom continuing.

"Back in the late '80s and early '90s, we were designing mainframe data centers," McCarthy said. "To do a 50,000-sq.-ft., 60,000-sq.-ft. data center was a big deal; a job you got once in a while. My staff has done six 100,000-sq.-ft. data centers this past year." Einhorn Yaffee Prescott designed a data center in Atlanta that's 300,000 sq. ft. and another in Philadelphia that's 400,000 sq. ft, McCarthy said.

"Size is beyond comprehension," McCarthy said. "Doing 100,000-sq.-ft. data centers is very typical these days, but it's getting toward the small size. For electrical and mechanical engineers, it's exciting.

People are knocking on the door and saying, 'Can I come work for you?'" Not only electrical engineers, but also electrical contractors can benefit from the data-center boom. McCarthy said data centers offer an ongoing, exciting experience for contractors in New York City and nationwide.

"These companies aren't going to be building center after center in New York City," McCarthy said. "They're going to build a couple here, a couple in Washington, a couple in Atlanta and a couple in Chicago. If any of them have eyes toward expanding, it's a great opportunity. They pay very well for good work, and it's much more of a continuing relationship."

Because many of the data-center projects are design-build, electrical contractors and engineers need to have a different mindset, McCarthy said.

"There's a real opportunity there, but a real challenge as well to pull the right guys off the bench, provide the right management and work with the engineers in an open environment, which is different for a lot of companies," McCarthy said. "The adversarial relationship between the engineers and the contractors isn't going to work." Along with the challenges of design-build, contractors will also face other obstacles such as physical space limitations on the job site, McCarthy said.

"You get into situations of density with a lot of guys in small spaces," he said. "The general contractor has to cycle the people appropriately so they don't get into fights and onto people's nerves." A lot of excavation also occurs on sites in some cities, which requires a special knowledge and the right equipment. Contractors also have to find the right tools to speed up tasks such as pulling wire. "It's going to be fairly simple to pull wire," McCarthy said. "They do it in New York City manually but the speed of these jobs is forcing them to use automated equipment to do that. Doing a faster and better job is important."

Working on a data center is not much different than other installations, but it is often on a larger scale, McCarthy said. "For the most part, the systems are not outside the realm of what people are used to seeing as far as the installation," McCarthy said. "There's just a lot more of them."

Both McCarthy and Mann also emphasized the importance of maintaining quality on the fast-track data-center construction jobs.

"Your goal is to maintain the relationship and have your business have a very stable base," McCarthy said. "If you can do five 100,000-sq.-ft facilities within the next year, that's a good deal. All you have to do is do a good job on the first one, then keep doing a good job."

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