By now you?ve heard that Amazon is planning to build HQ2, a second corporate headquarters in North America. If you haven?t seen the RFP, it is worth a read. This seven page document covers specific preferences for the project, including proximity to a major highway, fiber connectivity, and the types of sites being considered. And it is very clear that the name of the game for this project is speed and scalability.
Speed to get the first employees through the door.
Speed to connect employees between offices.
Speed to get employees home at the end of the day.
Scalability of its new home city to grow how Amazon needs it to.
And scalability to grow the building to the estimated 8,000,000 square feet required to meet its ten year hiring goals.
Fortunately for Amazon, speed and scalability are National Power’s specialties.
So if Amazon calls us to ask for help evaluating sites based on the more technical aspects of the facility planning for HQ2, this is what we will tell them:
Start with an existing building on a site with plenty of shovel ready green space around it. With a competent Project Manager, upgrading an existing building is going to be the fastest way to get the first wave of employees working. Down the road you will have ample time to build new structures as your square footage needs scale, but for now, focus on existing sites.
?Then you need to determine your day one requirements. These are going to be the requirements for staying compliant with local regulations and keeping your employees safe and comfortable. This also means determining what you want covered with backup power. Because of the AWS data centers, you don?t have to worry about building large onsite data centers or server rooms, but will there be any smaller ones onsite in need of backup power? What about the HVAC, lights, and fire suppression? What is critical and what isn?t? You?ll still have power for the non-critical loads, but you?re trying to maximize the space in an existing structure, so plan for the critical systems first.
Another day one requirement to think about are your commercial power requirements. What will you need to handle multiple commercial inputs, surge suppression, grounding, etc.? Even without a large data center onsite, you?re going to be powering plenty of delicate technology, so you want to make sure your electricity is clean.
Once you know your day one requirements, you can start making decisions.
Unless you have found a building that is less than ten years old, you?re going to have to update the HVAC and fire suppression system. You don?t need to know exactly what we?re going to do with those systems right now, but understanding what is staying and what is getting updated is important to make sure you?re using space and power efficiently.
Now let?s talk about backup power. At this point, you know what systems are critical and non-critical and you have a pretty good idea of the load size of each. Now you need to think about how long you want to be able to utilize backup power in the event of a long commercial outage. Do you want enough power for everyone to save their work and safely exit the building? Or will you expect work to continue as normal? That?s the difference between hours and days or weeks.
You also need to decide what you need in the event that a generator fails. This rarely happens on National Power?s projects because we like to use paralleling systems. Generac?s MPS technology is excellent in situations like this because it not only provides redundancy in the event of a failure ? and you know from building data centers that redundancy is vital ? but it also offers easy scalability. So in the very unlikely event there is a commercial outage and all your generators fail, what back up power requirements do you need from your UPS or DC system? Minutes or hours?
Depending on how much battery backup you need will start to inform whether you should use a UPS or DC plant system. Another factor that will inform this decision is the space available. Again, you?re using an existing structure, so you need to work with what you have. UPS systems are designed for lots of power in a smaller footprint, but with less runtime. You can expect about 20 minutes of runtime, not hours. With DC systems your level of redundancy comes from the number of battery strings instead of the actual DC plants. This is why a DC system will have a larger footprint, but it offers easy scalability and hours of runtime.
Since Amazon is making a long term investment with HQ2, it is worth noting the design life of these batteries. UPS batteries are expected to last 3-4 years, whereas DC plant batteries have a 20 year expected life span. More often than not, the longer life of DC batteries balances out the higher upfront cost of a DC system, so the two systems end up roughly even. That means the decision could come down to the available space and the maintenance you?re willing to commit to.
All that being said, it is massively important to determine how critical this facility needs to be. Is this headquarters going to be truly equal to your Seattle headquarters? Are the employees going to be performing the same tasks, thus building a sort of redundancy into your business? Or are you dividing responsibilities, so the work done at each headquarters will be vital? If that?s the case, more functions at HQ2 will likely be classified as critical. Are you housing any data centers or servers onsite that will need to run 24/7/365, no matter what? Or is absolutely everything run through AWS?
Once you know the answers to those questions, we can start at where you?ll be on day one and then anticipate where you?ll be in 2, 4, 6 years, all the way past your goal of 50,000 employees and 8,000,000 square feet in 2027. From there we make a plan that will scale at each stage of the project, eliminating any growing pains. Then we can start building.
This is our advice to Amazon as it looks at the hundreds of proposals that are flooding in and starts digging down to the technical specifics.
By Anthony Daniels and Kara Odell