Building a Data Center for the Future

When ROEL Construction needed a new cost- and energy-efficient solution that would centralize storage and be eco-friendly, the company opted for a virtual data center. Kevin Fitzpatrick, ROEL’s IT director, discusses the challenges, choices made and results of these efforts.

As a 90-year-old family-owned company operating in today’s roller-coaster business world, ROEL Construction strives to maintain its ideals and founding beliefs, which center on integrity, quality and trust. With more than 250 employees in five locations, including our headquarters in San Diego, we operate more than 25 job sites. Just fixing things that go awry in the normal course of business—a mistakenly deleted business-critical file or a server that is down—could take a whole week if we reacted to events as they happened.

Finding a way to proactively design our IT infrastructure to support the business, intercept problems before they occur and keep our company ahead of foreseeable IT challenges has been the key to making technology a driver of our success. One example is our effort to create efficiencies in our data center.

ROEL Construction is dedicated to quality, sustainability and innovation, and is committed to having a positive impact on the lives of our employees, customers and subcontractors. We believe we can make a difference on the environmental health and safety fronts, and we have established definitive, measurable methods to minimize our environmental footprint.

Applying this corporate sustainability initiative to our IT practices was crucial for many reasons. We felt that the data center at ROEL was a great place to make a major impact on our sustainable IT initiative.

Designing and implementing a greener data center made ethical sense and was in lockstep with the company’s mission and ideals. However, the initiative was not based solely in altruistic motives. Our business was also driving us toward the benefits we could achieve with an energy-efficient data center.

In the last decade, the technology the construction industry has used to bid on, design and complete projects has become more sophisticated, complex and data-intensive. The new tools and technologies have added dimensions to the IT infrastructure beyond the typical accounting database, CAD/CAM software, and e-mail databases that were the norm in the 1990s.

Bidding on projects today is much more graphically intensive, as clients expect the most realistic depiction of the project they want built. Once these image-heavy bids are submitted, our corporate retention policy requires us to store them for as long as 12 years. And because many projects are similar and elements may be used more than once, retaining files enables us to respond to bids more quickly, while keeping administrative costs low.

When ROEL is selected for a job, our teams use three-dimensional modeling software tools to build computer models that electronically anticipate costly project complications before any fabrication or on-site work starts. These building information modeling (BIM) tools generate excellent results, and the quality of work improves through the analysis and planning process.

However, these tools also generate enormous amounts of data. Since 2004, data has grown from between 300MB and 600MB per project to 30GB per project or more. The project data and plans must conform to our business-retention policy.

These changes in industry standards meant that data wasn’t going to stop growing. In fact, we estimate that our data will grow to three times its size in the next two years. We had two choices: Buy more storage or store the data more efficiently.