4 Keys to Surviving COVID As a Couple (Or Delivering a 40+ MW Data Center in 13 Months)

May 5, 2023
Chris Bair explains how Stream Data Centers successfully delivered a hyperscale data center campus in the toughest supply chain environment we’ve ever seen. (The same way some marriages thrived through COVID.)
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, prognosticators predicted that divorce rates would skyrocket.
(Indeed, it wouldn’t be crazy to imagine that my lovely wife, stuck with me for months on end, would’ve resorted to divorce or inspired the next season of Serial.) Certainly, the pandemic hastened the demise of some relationships. But many others got stronger, and divorce rates actually fell – and only in part because courts were backlogged.
Sometimes, what doesn’t kill you does indeed make you stronger. Shared hardship strengthens the ties that bind.

I’m reminded of those facts when I think about Stream’s recent experience deploying over 40 megawatts of dedicated capacity for a hyperscale client – a feat we accomplished in just 13 months. In the most constrained supply chain environment I’ve ever seen. How’d we do it? The same way married couples survived COVID-19:

  • We didn’t sign the deal until we ensured culture and values alignment (which form the foundation of any good relationship: trust)
  • We communicated clearly and often – and managed expectations
  • We both had skin in the game, a shared commitment to the success of the project
  • We collaborated (they helped us help them)
Culture and values alignment (which leads to trust)

My colleague Chris Jackson (Stream’s SVP of Operations) said it well in a blog post titled Never Leave Your Wingman: “Data center operations are based on trust…That’s a deceptively simple statement, which is why a lot of data center tenants don’t get the solutions they need.” Relationships are based on trust, and trust is based on culture and values alignment. (This is ours.)

I’ve said before that a data center tour is like a date, and my colleague Michael Lahoud (Stream’s Chief Operating Officer and Partner) says a build-to-suit project is like a marriage: “Most people have certain pre-requisites they’re looking for in a life partner: steady job, place to live, plans for the future. In the data center world: availability and security. A partner who checks all the boxes is necessary – but not sufficient. If you don’t also get along, you’re not likely to make it through year one.”

In any relationship, trust goes both ways. Trust in our clients enables Stream to proactively get ahead of supply chain delays. Having built and operated data centers since 1999, we can foresee the kinds of challenges that cause long lead times, and proactively address them. For example, Stream has a long history of pre-ordering dedicated MEP lines from our manufacturing partners – which enables us to deliver on the client’s timeline.

Clear communication (and expectation management)

Wary from previous experiences with other data center providers that made big promises and never delivered, the client asked us to beef up our already robust communication protocols. We happily obliged, increasing our frequency of communication to weekly and providing behind-the-kimono level insight. That clear and frequent communication enabled us to manage expectations, and to collaboratively resolve challenges that arose.

When one of the largest financial institutions in the nation hired Stream to design, build, and operate a dedicated data center, they had a similar experience. “An ongoing commitment to open conversations and dialogue regarding maintenance windows is essential, including discussion about topics like the replacement of key components to better optimize performance. Open exchanges help the relationship seem less like landlord-tenant and more like a truly collaborative partnership.”

Commitment

I sometimes joke that when my wife and I decided to get married (this was in the way old times, though she hasn’t aged a day) we signed a prenup with only one clause: if one of us left, that person had to take full custody of the kids. I love my kids, but it’s been a good motivator to work through the rough patches. Jokes aside, the point is that when both parties in a relationship recognize the mutual benefit of staying together, they’re incentivized to do the hard work required to overcome challenges.

For this hyperscale client, the fact that we both had skin in the game provided a high level of comfort that we’d be there for them even if (when) the going got rough. It was the same for the bank client: “By partnering closely and always working as ‘we’ rather than ‘us/them’ both teams continue to gain insight from an operations standpoint. Open exchanges help the relationship be a truly collaborative partnership rather than the typical landlord-tenant engagement.”

Collaboration (help me help you)

Our clients are highly sophisticated. Our hyperscale clients operate data centers at tremendous levels of scale and sophistication around the world. So they understand that challenges will arise, and how important collaboration is to overcome those challenges to ensure the successful outcome that everyone wants (the 40+ megawatts of capacity in 13 months). They understand that they have to help us help them.

For example, we asked the client for some design change freedom – well within the original parameters of the agreement – in order to meet their tight timeline. They were flexible, and understanding of the supply chain constraints we all faced, and they gave us the freedom. It didn’t have to go that way though: either party could have pointed to the lease and refused to be flexible. And the project would have failed. Instead, we jointly collaborated and Semper Gumby-ed to ensure the successful outcome.

Here’s looking at you, kid

By any measure, the project was successful – the client got their 40+ megawatts of data center capacity in the time they needed it. Much more than that, it further strengthened a beautiful relationship. Take it from the client, who sent us this note: “Just wanted to drop you a line to share with your delivery teams. Our Design, Network and Construction teams said in review that Stream was one of the best landlords they worked with. That says a lot in my opinion. I think it goes a long way obviously in future business when we lease again. So please keep it up as we transition to operations.”

Chris Bair is Chief Commercial Officer and Partner at Stream Data Centers, which builds and operates for large and sophisticated hyperscalers and enterprises – 24 data centers since 1999, with 90% of our capacity leased to the Fortune 100.

About the Author

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