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Commercial Real Estate

Brant Bernet: Coral Heads and Your Data Center

Because IT departments and corporate real estate normally have very little interaction, bringing the two together is often difficult. And when procurement and corporate finance are brought into the mix, it can get really interesting.
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Brant Bernet
Brant Bernet

You know the saying, “out of your element?” (Guys, think of the last time you were asked to tag along to a wedding shower, and you begin to get the picture.) If you have even a shred of adventure in your blood, you probably find yourself out of your element often. You may even thrive on the feeling.

A few months ago, I found myself standing next to my two sons, beer in hand, with beautiful, soft, white sand between our toes. We stood in awe as we watched the sun slowly sink into the crystal clear waters that surround the Exumas islands in The Bahamas. Dry land, great food, ocean breeze, good company. Content, comfortable, safe; those are the words that kept running through my mind. The next morning, we would chuck all that, in the name of adventure, jump in a boat with nothing but fins, masks, and our trusty Hawaiian Slings, and head out to sea.

The “sling” is a simple 12-inch, cylindrical piece of wood with a hole drilled down the center and a small piece of rubber tubing attached at one end. The rubber tubing acts as the “energy” that propels a 5-foot steel shaft toward your unsuspecting subject—in our case, the Caribbean Spiny Lobster. Here’s the catch: In order to apprehend these tasty crustacea, you must navigate the boat through miles of open water, until everything—land, other boats, birds, sanity—is but a memory.

We drove until we found a promising coral head and slapped the boat in neutral. Promising coral heads are recognized as the only dark scar on an otherwise pristine, deep azure palette. Sometimes they produce a bountiful harvest, and sometimes they are a bust. Against all rational thought, we grabbed our weapons, donned our masks and fins and left the comforting bosom of a perfectly sound boat. We hit the water, fins first, and instantly entered the underworld. Not a hellish underworld, but an eerie, beautiful, and remarkably tranquil place.

The noise from the boat engine became muted and the above-sea-level distractions of voice, wind, and sea chop disappeared. The coral head is a metropolis of underwater caves, trails, bright flowering plants, and sea creatures of every shape and size. The colors are unmatched on the surface and span every inch of the spectrum. At times we were within shouting (screaming) distance of black tip sharks and toothy barracuda. It was very clear to us Texas boys that we were now officially out of our element. And then, with respect and reverence, the hunt was on!

When two very different worlds collide, the outcome depends on the deference that is given from one side of the surface tension to the other. Those involved in the data center procurement process often find themselves in a similar paradox.

Because IT departments and corporate real estate normally have very little interaction, bringing the two together is often difficult. And when procurement and corporate finance are brought into the mix, it can get really interesting. Historically, those that reside in these various departments are in those departments for a reason; and, for the most part, one does not belong in the other.

Ironically, when data center projects are choreographed by IT, corporate real estate, and finance—the Data Center triumvirate—from the beginning, it is those differences that produce the best results. Real stress is created when one of the three ventures out alone and winds up in the others’ territory. Katy bar the door, and let the fighting begin.
Data center procurement can be confusing and is always a high-profile endeavor; but when IT draws the map, which finance approves and real estate navigates, the success rate goes through the roof.

With the exception of one very large, pesky barracuda, the underworld allowed us to invade its territory for a few days. We finished every day drained and ready for bed, but not before we feasted on Caribbean lobster tail, conch, and skillet-fried grouper. For a few magical days, we lived in harmony with locals in a foreign land, and it was great.

Before you start your next data center project, expand your boundaries, get outside your comfort zone, and introduce yourself to your coworkers from the next floor.

Brant Bernet is senior vice president of CBRE, where he leads the firm’s critical environments group in Dallas. Contact him at [email protected].

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