Building a data centre: the problem you might not think of…
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Building a data centre: the problem you might not think of…


Data centre builds can last for several years, requiring a lot of expert staff - and these people need to stay somewhere during the build. Here's a case study of how can solve this common yet under-discussed issue.

Putting a data centre together is a tough job for a number of reasons.

Firstly, they are enormous projects that can last for multiple years. Secondly, they are often in locations where there is a shortage of land to build on, requiring creative architectural solutions. And thirdly, they are extremely advanced pieces of engineering – data centre designers need to account for security, sustainability, productivity, and fitting in to the surroundings.

But one aspect that you might not consider is where the people building it are going to live. Constructing a data centre needs highly qualified staff, and these highly qualified staff need to be on site for long periods of time in order to do the job. This is often an unexpected problem for the construction and engineering firms in charge of data centre projects, not to mention the data centre companies themselves who need to research, plan and oversee the build. Companies are good at some things and not good at other things – and being a real estate agent isn’t exactly in the sweet spot of data centre builders, especially seeing as some of the larger projects require more than 1,000 apartments to be available in the same place at the same time.

One data centre build where this was a particular problem was a multi-year data centre build in Mons, Belgium. The country boasts an unfortunate combination of low rental supply, inflexible tenancy agreements with long leases and harsh cancellation terms, and a culture of renting properties totally unfurnished. All this meant that ensuring liveable accommodation within the project budget was becoming an unsustainably painful headache.

This was the problem were called in to solve. The UK-based company helps data centre builders and operators navigate the problems of housing their workers on data centre builds. Before came in, the problem of finding suitable accommodation for the Mons project was so acute that a lot of highly paid data centre and engineering staff were performing tasks that weren’t exactly in their job descriptions. “They were sending their guys out to walk around the city, poke their heads in and out of letting agents, schedule viewings, and then sign the tenancy agreements,” says Paul Glover, WAFH’s CEO – and the fact all the apartments were unfurnished created further problems. “They were even sending their people down to IKEA with a van and buying thousands of pounds worth of furniture to fit out the properties they had found. And then they're sitting there for hours building flat pack furniture when they’re meant to be building data centres!”

This is clearly a non-optimal situation for a professional data centre builder – and it probably strikes a chord for anyone who has worked on a similar project. Solving these problems is the idea behind the concept. The company takes over the management of staff accommodation on data centre builds, maintaining relations with local realtors and offering companies rolling monthly contracts that fit the flexibility requirements of a data centre build.’s experienced back office team deals with all the property issues and payments. They produce one monthly invoice for all your accommodation, saving companies huge amounts of administration time.

By taking the rental negotiation off the hands of data centre builders and the engineering firms, this has freed their time up to get on with building high-quality facilities and provided these firms with a more flexible and sensible way to manage their considerable staff accommodation needs.

This also has a knock-on effect in the local economy and property market, with the success of the Belgian project seeing working directly with local property investors to manage the supply of accommodation at a more strategic and holistic level, leading to re-development of dilapidated buildings and even ensuring favourable write-ups in the local press – something vital for data centre developers given the prominence of these facilities in local communities. has taken the concept to various data centre locations in the UK, Europe, Middle East and North America. It has been particularly welcome in areas famous for constricted rental supply – Frankfurt being one of them. “A problem a lot of companies are facing is pure lack of supply. Take Frankfurt – there's a real lack of supply in that city because you've got the financial services there, you’ve got other industries there, not to mention circa 52 data centres. Once you start including subcontractors, this means construction companies sending thousands of staff, and they all need to stay somewhere.”

““This was how our solution came to the forefront, and I think we’ve changed a lot of opinions in the market about how to approach accommodation,” says Glover. will be showcasing their solutions at the Datacloud Global Congress in Monaco. Get your pass to join them here.

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