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AI and cloud adoption propel data center demand to record levels for 2023

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are touching the corners of every industry in a rapidly changing and exciting way. The data center will serve as the backbone to support its explosive growth at massive scale. According to JLL’s new 1H 2023 North American Data Center Report, AI requirements, along with continued adoption of cloud services, are the main drivers of hyperscale expansion, driving record growth in the data center sector.

The first half of 2023 finished with record absorption as hyperscalers, financial firms, healthcare companies and other major enterprises raced to secure data center space. Most of the supply that will be delivered in the third and fourth quarter of 2023 has already been preleased or is under exclusivity. Due to primary market power constraints, supply coming online in 2024 will also be preleased, resulting in limited options for users who are not in the market far in advance of their preferred go-live date.

 “The data center industry is continuing to experience explosive growth in demand which is leading to completely sold-out primary markets, secondary market expansion and the development of newer tertiary markets,” said Andy Cvengros, Managing Director, JLL. “Major markets and most secondary markets have reached a state of supply and demand imbalance; the development timeline for new data centers has grown to three to five years – or more in some cases. If you want a new data center within that timeframe, start planning for it now, as we don’t see any sign of this demand slowing or the power situation getting any better.”

When it comes to primary data center markets, Phoenix and the Northwest have outpaced Northern Virginia as the leader in absorption with 194.5 MW and 185.9 MW, respectively, compared to 184 MW for the first half of 2023. Primary markets already have a limited inventory of colocation space, leading data center operators to increase pricing by up to 20 to 30%. JLL Research anticipates secondary markets, including Columbus, Salt Lake City, Reno and Austin, to continue to support the overflow from these constrained primary markets.  

 AI changes everything

AI is expected to accelerate this demand as more and more industries adopt AI as a tool to achieve corporate objectives. The last three years have seen massive investments in AI and machine learning through venture capital, private equity and M&A. So far, 2023 has seen $32 billion in investments through Q1.  

“AI implementation requires significant computing power and resources, which translates to increases in leasing,” said Kari Beets, Senior Manager, Research, JLL. “AI needs also require higher power densities which require additional infrastructure in most data centers.”

 Additionally, the demand for edge computing is accelerating. Generative AI, like ChatGPT, is also driving demand for edge computing requirements, as cloud companies are leveraging edge to enhance scale and deliver AI applications for faster, better responses.

AI models are also changing data center infrastructure, with some large requirements driving densities to 50-100 kW per rack. Many colocation providers have adjusted the voltage delivered to the floor to 415 volts, which can reduce the upfront cost of delivering power to these high-density clusters.  

 “Data centers are massive power users and require significant efforts to keep cool,” said Matt Landek, Managing Director, Data Centers & Telecom, Work Dynamics, JLL. “Given hyperscaler and colocation provider sustainability goals, the data center industry will need new innovations to improve cooling and energy efficiency for AI uses.”  

Data center investment market remains strong

Even with a high interest rate environment, data center lender and investor demand remain strong, a bright spot for the capital markets. The sector is still attracting a variety of lenders, including life companies, banks, debt funds and CMBS/SASB, and the record-setting M&A activity of the last two years in the data center sector continues, with a flurry of recent major announcements.

“Evidence of growing investor demand is apparent when analyzing the trend of M&A valuation and EBITDA multiples, which is, simply put, a measure of a company’s return on their investment,” said Carl Beardsley, Managing Director, Capital Markets, JLL. “In the trailing 12 months, EBITDA multiples have averaged 26.5x versus an average of 23.2x since January 2017, meaning that investment value is increasing.”

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