Data Centers: A Foundational Primer ULI Online Workshop

The advent of Big Data has more sharply focused attention on the development of Data Centers. Data centers are perhaps the most complex and sophisticated buildings being constructed today, requiring redundancies and resiliency well beyond other property types. Yet to many the precise function, components, users, and business models of data centers are not well known or understood. Held over two sessions, this new ULI online workshop will provide a functional introduction to the history, infrastructure, economics, and building technology that make up the modern Data Center. 

Session 1: February 25, 2014 1:30 – 3:30 p .m. ET

The program will begin by providing a brief historical background of technology infrastructure, information processing and data center real estate. What do data centers actually do, and what needs brought them into existence? This explanatory context will provide the foundation required to illustrate the dynamics that are driving the current demand for data centers. We’ll discuss the demand drivers and how these have led to different types of data center facilities. Some of these facility types have offered opportunities to real estate developers, and some haven’t. Even developers who never plan to participate in the high technology facilities market are being increasingly affected by the market forces which have led to the explosive growth and capacity of data centers and IT infrastructure. This context will help further explain and demonstrate the relative merits of various business models to different end users, and why these are changing so rapidly. 

Session Highlights
  • Brief history of IT infrastructure: creation and evolution of computing environments and interconnections
  • The function of data centers – more than a building full of servers
  • Demands of data center end users: enterprise, institution, consumer
  • Overview of data center business models: how the data center real estate market is segmented, from DC-ready sites to powered shells to turnkey solutions and beyond
  • Data center business cases: different facility types for different use sets
  • Reliability and redundancy vs cost of downtime

Session 2: February 27, 2014 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. ET

The second session will begin by providing a look at the constituent parts of the data center value chain including power, the building, mechanical and electrical systems, racks, cables, servers, software, and IT services. An understanding of these components and their costs will in turn provide a basis for understanding different data center development models, tenant types, and return expectations.  The session will conclude with an overview of different data center service delivery types including: Powered Shell, Turn-key White Space, Colocation, Managed Services, Hosting and Cloud Services. We’ll discuss the different players, facilities and development models that are matched with each of these service models, and present the basics of data center real estate economics, including development costs, income, financing and capital structures and entry and exit strategies.

Session Highlights
  • Total cost of ownership (TCO) of a data center: balancing enormous first costs, reliability and operating costs
  • Overview of development models
  • Location considerations: infrastructure, latency, operating costs, labor 
  • Who owns what part of a data center?
  • Typical tenants and providers: who’s who in the data center real estate universe
  • Summary economics
  • Key development risks
  • Data Center real estate and the pace of change


Alan Razak
AthenianRazak, LLC 
Philadelphia, PA
Alan Razak is Principal of AthenianRazak LLC, a Philadelphia-based real estate services company that consults on, creates, and manages real property. Alan has more than 35 years of commercial real estate experience, encompassing development and project management, finance, architectural design, and consulting. His diverse real estate background includes managing the development process, both as owner and on a consulting basis as Owner’s Representative, and project types including residential, office and commercial, as well as specialized expertise in data centers and other highly technical facilities.

Prior to merging with Athenian Properties to form AthenianRazak, Alan founded and led Razak Company, which was responsible for the development of Main Line Jaguar Land Rover, Pembroke North Condominium, 5035 Ritter Road for the AOPC, the Curtis Institute of Music’s Lenfest Hall, and other projects.

Alan’s IT experience began at MIT in the early 1970’s, where he worked on architectural and engineering-related computer applications. Since that start, through continuous project experience with both IT and real estate, he has developed a particular expertise in helping clients bridge the planning and communications gaps which frequently exist between the two realms. In this capacity, Mr. Razak has assisted clients such as Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Digital Realty, Citadel Investment Group, Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, Highmark, Susquehanna Investment Group, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, JP Morgan, AmSouth Bank, First Union, Inter-Digital, Genuity, Global Switch, ClearBlue Technologies and The Vanguard Group of Mutual Funds. He has consulted on both tactical and strategic IT real estate planning for enterprises and institutions, as well as developed data centers both speculative and turnkey, ranging in size from hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions of dollars. AthenianRazak also manages data center space in the Philadelphia market.

Prior to forming Razak Company in 2003, Alan was a principal with a Philadelphia real estate consulting and investment advisory firm, where he consulted on a broad variety of assignments across the entire spectrum of real estate issues. Throughout the 1980s, as a partner at developer Rouse & Associates, he managed such high profile projects as a 400,000 sf Washington, D.C. office building and the development of a 20-acre Penn’s Landing urban mixed-use project. He began his career as an architect, working on the design of multifamily residential, commercial, and healthcare projects in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, and for purely sentimental reasons he maintains his status as a registered architect in Pennsylvania. Alan has served on the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation’s Board of Directors, is Chairman of the Board of the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre and is a member of the Urban Land Institute, where he wrote and currently teaches several workshops for real estate practitioners internationally. He holds a B.S. in Arts and Design from MIT, a Master of Architecture from the University of Washington, and an MBA with a concentration in real estate from Wharton.

Christopher Strom

Director of Project Development

AthenianRazak, LLC

Philadelphia, PA

Christopher Strom, Director of Project Development at AthenianRazak, is responsible for client services, development financing, and project development.

Chris has more than two decades of experience in real estate and development, specializing in complex technical buildings. He has a unique skill set that encompasses real estate development, architectural design, construction and financing strategies that position him as a creative solution provider. He has worked on transactions worth more than $3 billion and has been on multiple sides of real estate deals.

His unique combination of skills allows Chris to understand and address mission critical projects from a variety of perspectives. That broad background is essential to helping companies and institutions develop a data center strategy that balances the needs of their business, their IT roadmap, their balance sheet requirements and their existing real estate footprint.

He has worked with some of the nation’s most prominent companies and institutions helping them improve their business performance, lower risk and lower costs. Prior to joining AthenianRazak, Chris led project development for some of the most innovative data center projects in North America. As a senior member of Skanska’s Mission Critical leadership team, he was instrumental in developing real estate solutions to support the specific IT needs of clients, including innovative project delivery methods and data center infrastructure technologies.

Chris is a member of the Urban Land Institute and currently chairs the Information and Communication Technology Subcommittee of the New York Infrastructure Council. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and a BS in Physics and Art History from the University of Wisconsin.
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