Originally posted Monday, 25 June 2012

Written by Brittany Fining

Located in Dallas, the new Data Center at the University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) Medical Center is one of the university’s most challenging–yet successful–projects ever. The construction of any data center is inherently complex, but this project faced additional challenges that made construction even more demanding. Because the UTSW’s old data center was set to be demolished to make room for a new hospital, all of the infrastructure services and equipment from the existing center needed to be relocated to a new site on the campus. Even more, since the original data center’s servers and other infrastructure were crucial not only to patient care, but also to daily operations of the hospital and university, it was vital that there was no disruption of this service during construction.

Project Description

The new Data Center is a build out for the existing 15,000-square-foot Tier III data center. The new facility features 8,000 square feet of raised floor, 2,800 square feet of electrical infrastructure, and 4,200 square feet of operations support and office space. The new equipment installed includes one 2,250 KW generator, one 750 KVA UPS module, two custom electrical-room air handlers, and seven DX CRAC units. Additionally, two existing 325 KVA UPS modules, seven existing DX CRAC units, and a gas suppression system were relocated from the old data center to the new.

Project Management

Excellent leadership from UTSW was key to the project’s success. Throughout the project’s duration, multiple live power switchovers were required for the installation of new equipment to the existing power grid. Because this power fed several critical hospital systems, it was essential no disruptions in service occurred. The Owner’s project manager, Shamir Gonzalez, understood the complexities of the switchovers and provided superior leadership and coordination among all involved parties. He made certain that the team had access to all of the appropriate resources within UTSW and helped streamline communication between departments. When installing redundant cooling and uninterruptible power supplies for the new Data Center, Gonzalez researched and coordinated the use of existing UTSW CRAH and UPS units, ultimately saving the project both time and money. The use of existing equipment also lowered both the facility’s carbon footprint and the preset project budget.

Project Scheduling

Scheduling was another area where the Owner provided superior leadership. With multiple projects ongoing at any given time, UTSW’s construction management team has developed an excellent master planning schedule system to effectively manage all of these construction projects. This master planning schedule was particularly useful in coordinating rooftop unit lifts for the new Data Center with an adjacent project. With a thorough understanding of the schedules for both projects, UTSW provided clear direction as to when these lifts—which involved the use of a helicopter—could be safely completed with minimal impacts to both projects’ schedules.

Quality Management

Due to the fact that flaws in construction could lead to downtime in the campus’ critical IT systems, the standards of quality management for this project were especially high. To ensure these quality standards were met, UTSW started with a proven design and construction team for this project type. The design team and contractor then implemented their own quality program in coordination with UTSW’s standards. UTSW also had multiple levels of staff, ranging from project-specific quality control individuals to designated end-user associates, each of which gave weekly feedback on the quality of the ongoing installation. Moreover, inspections were coordinated and scheduled far in advance, giving inspectors plenty of time to catch any potential issues before they became a problem.

Cost Management

To efficiently manage the project’s costs, the Owner employed an open-book approach, which allowed the team to communicate cost issues in a timely and transparent manner. On a weekly basis, UTSW and the construction manager met to review project costs, evaluating any issues and quickly resolving them. Changes in the project were funded by the project contingency; however, the use of the contingency was well-understood and tracked by the entire team. Gonzalez and UTSW also made themselves readily available to deal with time-sensitive construction issues, and if changes were deemed necessary, UTSW issued change directives to adjust the project schedule accordingly. To manage the documentation of change costs, UTSW used the global management software eBuilder, which offered a highly effective online cost-tracking system.

Project Complexity

While data centers are inherently complex to construct, the complexity of this project was increased by several factors. First off, it was necessary to coordinate the decommissioning, removal, and reinstallation of existing UTSW equipment to the new space. It was also not cost effective to employ cranes to install the rooftop air-handling units and condensers, necessitating the use of a helicopter. Another issue adding to the complexity was the fact that the project called for two-floor construction in a historic building erected in the 1960s, which was not specifically designed for IT operations. To this end, coordination of equipment sizes, recognition of future points of failure, and identifying hazards all made this project particularly challenging. Finally, a number of construction tasks were also quite complex:

• Removal of an existing elevator and equipment and using
that shaft space as part of the construction blueprint.
• Removal of Asbestos
• Coordination of existing power routing and tie in.
• Installation of a backup generator nearly a quarter-mile
from the new center, across a busy roadway.
• Installing large, heavy electrical and mechanical gear in
basement-level areas and coordination of existing structure
capacity with equipment weight.
• Installing additional structural support for MEP infrastructure.

Project Success

Despite the project’s many challenges, the team ultimately achieved great success. They were able to install a fully redundant, efficient, state-of-the-art data center in the 50-year-old building. This was made possible due to the careful selection of leading architectural and construction-management data-center firms under a collaborative, team-based approach. The re-evaluation and utilization of existing spaces and equipment facilitated proper installation and ensured that future maintenance requirements were met, while also ultimately lowering the project budget. UTSW encouraged the design team and CM to implement their product knowledge and expertise on the project, which ultimately fit well with the needs and wants of the Owner. Additionally, the sense of camaraderie among all team members played an important role in the project’s success. UTSW facilitated this friendly environment by encouraging team members to socialize with one another and carry those friendships into the workplace, which fostered a more comfortable atmosphere for making tough decisions, resolving conflicts, and maintaining transparency. The use of eBuilder for project management streamlined the project communication and coordination, ensuring that the entire team was always aware of any open issues. When it came time to implement changes, UTSW’s clear chain of command facilitated the quick review and approval of change requests needed to maintain the project schedule.

In the end, the project took 120 days to complete—a full two weeks ahead of schedule. Even more, the total cost of the project was $8,839,452, almost one-million dollars below the initial projected construction cost. And while $147,022 worth of change orders were approved, all of the changes were reconciled against the project contingency without any increase in the contract.


In addition to these successes, the project also achieved a good measure of sustainability, in spite of the fact that data centers are historically one of the least sustainable building types due to their excessive energy use. First, the use of an existing space instead of a new one maximized the environmentally friendly nature of the project. As well, the re-use of equipment limited the impact on the environment by eliminating the need for additional energy use through manufacturing of new equipment and disposal of old. Construction waste was continually recycled during the entire project, and by completion, the percentage of recycled waste exceeded 85%. Finally, a construction IAQ management plan was employed during the entire project, ensuring that the facility not only works at the highest energy efficiency possible, but also that the end users have a clean air environment.

The Owner’s highly effective leadership and the open, friendly collaboration among all parties enabled the team to not only overcome the obstacles they faced, but it also allowed the project to be completed ahead of schedule, under budget, and in a sustainable fashion. For such superior planning and management, the Data Center at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center rightfully deserves COAA’s 2011 Project Leadership Silver Award.


Construction Cost
Approx. $10 million

University of Texas Southwestern
Medical Center

Director of Construction
Guillermo Ramos

CM Firm
Holder Construction Company

Project Director
Terry Mick

Project Managers
Scott Breitkreutz
Whitney Yelm

General Superintendent
Jeffery Coward

Senior Preconstruction Manager
Mike Duwel

Corgan Associates

Matt McDonald

James Johnson & Associates