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Boom times for North America's big datacenter real estate market

CSPs, social giants behind bulk of colocation leasing activity in 2021

Datacenter demand is booming in North America as the economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report from CBRE.

The real estate services and investments specialist said that in the primary datacenter market areas (Northern Virginia, Silicon Valley, Chicago, New York Tri-State, Dallas, Phoenix, and Atlanta) there was record absorption – or uptake of capacity – for the whole of 2021, up 50 percent over 2020.

As a result, the total inventory across these primary market areas grew by 17 percent year-on-year during 2021 to 3,358MW of capacity, CBRE found, and another 728MW of capacity is currently under construction.

The report states that cloud service providers and social media companies were responsible for the bulk of colocation leasing activity throughout 2021, and this was especially so in areas such as Northern Virginia, Hillsboro, Atlanta, Phoenix, Chicago, and Dallas.

It highlights Hillsboro in Oregon as having the highest capacity uptake among secondary market areas during the second half of 2021, at 6.6MW, citing "two large social media companies" signing multiple leases in the area as being responsible for this spike in absorption. The popularity of the Hillsboro area for datacenter sites is attributed to its "economic incentives, favorable climate, and bountiful clean power."

Meanwhile, areas such as Northern Virginia and Silicon Valley are being affected by availability of land and power constraints, according to CBRE. Silicon Valley in particular had a vacancy rate of just 1.6 percent during H2 2021, the report states.

CBRE said it expects to see that as demand grows in power-constrained markets like Silicon Valley and Northern Virginia, inventory bottlenecks are likely to result in rental rate increases for datacenter tenants.

The report also notes the growing importance of datacenter connectivity, saying that a significant increase in data volume in H2 2021 was driven by applications such as 5G, IoT, and the shift to hybrid work environments.

In response, CBRE said it expects that the US fiber network will double in size over the next five years, driven by investments from both private and public sources.

Vlad Galabov, head of Cloud and Data Center Research at Omdia, agreed with the report findings that the hyperscale companies are accounting for much of the current demand.

"At least a third of the space the largest IT infrastructure operators have is located in a datacenter they do not own, and the largest are Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Tencent, Alibaba, IBM, and Baidu," he said.

However, Galabov added that new datacenter capacity is currently affected by various factors, including the ongoing supply chain issues, shipping costs, and the cost of equipment going up.

"Demand for datacenter space, compute, storage and networking is strong, but getting projects completed is challenged by supply chains," he said, adding: "We recently heard from Colt, which is constructing a number of new datacenters around the globe, that the lead time for a generator has gone up from 8-9 months to 12-14 months."

The CBRE report warns that new factors likely to further increase demand for datacenter capacity are already on the horizon, and these include autonomous vehicle technology, 5G infrastructure, virtual reality communities, and blockchain technology.

The report also states that a growing emphasis on reliability and sustainability has compelled datacenter owners and operators to explore new technologies, like fuel-cell energy storage. ®

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