Making a monster
Jay DiMaggio, Director of Real Estate and Construction at CoreSite, proudly describes the development of the company’s incredible SV7 project and what it means for the industry
CoreSite Realty Corporation has enjoyed an incredible rise to national prominence since its conception in 2001. A carrier-neutral data center provider, it operates 19 such centers in eight metropolitan areas across the US, creating a service for over 1000 customers of every size and value. Jay DiMaggio is the Director of Real Estate and Construction at CoreSite, and became involved in the industry because, after training to become an architect, he quickly discovered that – in his own words – he wasn’t cut out for it.
“I realized I was a very bad architect,” DiMaggio wryly says. “But I love architecture, and this way, I get to work with really great architects and engineers. I was with the Walt Disney Company for 12 years and wanted a change, then became involved with Carlyle Realty Group West who, in 2009, changed the company’s name to CoreSite. In 2003 we were all of a sudden building data centers! The rest is history and a great history it has been. I’ve been with CoreSite for 15 years, almost from its beginning, but I never had a long-term vision. Carlyle Realty Group West was not really a data center developer or operator back then, but very quickly morphed into a very profitable investment. Today I am still amazed as to how the company began but as I look back the recipe is pretty simple. Take a lot of smart, hardworking and creative people, who care, and success is imminent.
“My role has always been on the real estate development side of the business, so I support the projects from inception to completion. I have been involved with all five buildings on the CoreSite Santa Clara campus, with the last one being the SV7 building - which is a monster.”
CoreSite’s monster is unique. The SV7 data center in Santa Clara is a large building on a small piece of land, and in DiMaggio’s words, was “very, very difficult to build”. SV7 is a 248,000 square foot building on 118,000 square feet of land, stretching upwards four stories, which prompted an exceptionally aggressive construction schedule. The work was finished in an astonishing seven-and-a-half months, but officially the Temporary Certificate of Occupancy – or TCO, the paperwork signed by a building official when all life safety construction items are completed – was awarded at the nine month mark.
“There were tremendous challenges in building this large of a building this fast,” DiMaggio says. “Challenges from the city and local jurisdictions as well as the tight constraints on the site. We had over 400 workers onsite for the majority of the project which required a full time shuttle service driving workers to and from an offsite parking lot we rented. Ensuring we had street access and encroachment permits proved to be difficult as well, but the City of Santa Clara and Silicon Valley Power fully supported the SV7 project as they had on the previous four buildings. Ultimately the success of SV7 came down to the CoreSite Leadership and our incredible staff who were fully committed to and supported the project. Also, without question we had the best Project Team I have had the opportunity to work with in my 30 years developing projects. We were fortunate to hire all “A” players on this project otherwise SV7 would not be the success that it is.
It turned out that finding the right people was no mean feat. The schedule dictated seven day work weeks, meaning that subcontractors were dedicating entire workforces to CoreSite and there was little-to-no downtime.
“For the past 2.5 years, the workforce in the Bay Area has been scarce due to a significant number of large developments all under construction at the same time. We had to bring in skilled labor from all over the US in order to execute the project,” DiMaggio explains. “We had people flying all the way from Maine and Georgia to work on the project. Seriously, we had workers from at least ½ of the 50 United States. Our subcontractors did an amazing job working out the logistics of getting people to our project. Again and again, the Project Team we ended up with enough, including the leadership at CoreSite, which is the foundation. At least 70 percent of the company touched this project in some way, shape, or form.”
CoreSite made it a point to not build single-storey data centers in Santa Clara, instead challenging itself and maximizing space. As DiMaggio says, building one-storey buildings means losing all the land above the first storey, so SV7 required working with steel companies which specialized in very rigid materials systems fabricated and erected quickly. The structural steel frame (1,700 pieces) of SV7 was erected in just 14 days, an unprecedented speed for any construction project.
“That’s an insane amount of steel to go up; four storeys in that large a building in 14 days, but we had to figure out the quickest and most cost-effective way to do this if we were going to create multi-storey data centers and minimize the schedule.”
DiMaggio has partners like these steel manufacturers to thank for the incredible organization required in this type of project. The partnerships needed to be strategic, as CoreSite would be entirely reliant on them all playing an integral part. A large element of this was believing in the vision, which DiMaggio admits was not necessarily forthcoming for all.
“We sat down with every partner whilst putting the project together, and discussed what they would deliver within the timeframe and what we could do to shorten the timeframe. Almost all of them stepped away saying ‘there’s absolutely no way this can be done’ – which was exactly the response I expected.
“I told our then-CEO, Tom Ray, I just need to work harder to convince them! So a lot of conference calls turned into a lot of meetings, putting our partners in a room together and saying ‘this is what we need to do, I just need your help to figure out how’. Slowly but surely, everyone bought into the idea. What is even more gratifying is that just a few weeks ago, I got all of them together in a room and asked what they thought of the finished project: they all said ‘we could have done it faster, knowing what we all know now’. No one has designed, engineered and constructed a data center building of this size this quickly, and now, we could do it better, cheaper and faster.”
Reaping the rewards
For all involved, the hard work paid off – but for DiMaggio, it was particularly rewarding to be proven correct that SV7 could be done. He ensured that all of the partners knew how valued they were by CoreSite, and that their dedication, commitment, and tireless input was key to the success of the project. The majority of the workforce involved in the construction of SV7 had worked with data centers for many years previously, proving that their initial reluctance to get involved was not borne out of inexperience, and makes it even more impressive that each of them left so content with the role they played.
“I came out of this saying ‘it will be a long time before I do something like this again’,” says DiMaggio. “That’s not to say I wouldn’t do it, but I wanted to get the Teams reaction – which was ‘let’s do another’. The reality is, they are the success of the project. If they say it can be done, it can be done. We’d never built a project with this kind of schedule before; our SV4 building went up in around six months, but the interiors were not fully built out. SV7 was entirely finished in such a short time. It was a tough nine months; it was crazy, but worth it.”
Some element of the project’s success can be attributed to DiMaggio’s unwavering resilience that drove him to keep convincing and pushing CoreSite’s partners until they saw SV7’s true potential. Considering almost all of them believed it could not be done, and each of them not only threw themselves into it, but then came away wanting to do it again – and better – DiMaggio’s positivity and influence clearly made a firm and lasting impact.
“One of the things I learned many, many years ago was to listen to people,” he explains. “Truly listen to what they’re saying, and don’t try to push them beforehand. When listened to, people become invested and ultimately want to make sure that the goal is achieved and everyone is successful. We had a lot of “counselling” sessions over the course of the project – which I needed as much as anyone. I had to walk into a room full of partners with a lot of confidence so that I could say ‘look, I’m here with you shoulder-to-shoulder. Tell me what I can do and how I can help’. I wanted to make sure they knew they had my support.
“But this isn’t about me,” DiMaggio is keen to stress, with sincere modesty. “Really, every one of those subcontractors, architects, engineers and CoreSite staff – the job they did was just phenomenal. This is all about SV7 and the people who made it happen. It’s monumental. There’s no other data center like it. At some point there will be, but right now its one-of-a-kind.”
For CoreSite, the focus is new development, specifically on the east coast (which is not within DiMaggio’s remit). Development is also occurring within the company’s data centers in Los Angeles, and in Silicon Valley it is actively seeking out new opportunities. “Our acquisition folks are extremely busy all over the place. We’ve got our sights set on some big opportunities.”
DiMaggio has no qualms referring to SV7 as “the best, most monumental project I’ve had the opportunity to work on”. While he is delighted with every project he has been a part of over the past 30 years, he is most proud of this one because it required so much planning, preparation, and innovation, and then went so incredibly well, leaving partners, customers, and CoreSite itself equally satisfied.
“It is incredibly humbling, hearing our partners say they’d love to do this again,” DiMaggio concludes with a smile in his voice. “CoreSite’s a great company with an even greater culture. It really is. The culture, the leadership, and the people – it’s a wonderful company to work for and people I have been fortunate to work with. I wouldn’t have stuck around for 15 years – half of my career – if it wasn’t. I planned to come in and work here for one or two years, but I have no regrets. It’s been an amazing opportunity.”