You may have read in last week’s press release that the construction of the fifth data center at LCL Brussels-North has officially started. But what makes this project so fascinating? And what does it signify for the clients and the future of LCL? Project Department Manager Floris Smits and Project Manager Pieter Van Haegenbergh share everything you need to know about the ambitious task at hand. The initial groundwork had already started at the end of last year, but from now on, LCL Brussels-North 5 is only moving forward, and upwards.

How and when did the plans for LCL Brussels-North 5 originate?

Floris: The initial ideas date back to around 2012, mainly to map out future expansion possibilities in Diegem, such as for permits. The project was picked up again in 2019 with an intensive design and permitting process. Last year, the groundwork began, including the migration of live installations from the existing data centers that stood on the site of the new building.

Pieter: In March, we could begin with the visible realisation, but all those preparations were crucial to experience as little disruption as possible in the existing LCL Brussels-North data centers during construction.

Floris: Parts of the cooling installations, including many pipes, had to be moved and reconnected to the existing pipelines. During this migration, we relied on temporary cooling systems (with backups). Therefore, we at LCL worked in shifts so there was someone available 24/7 to initiate any emergency procedures and ensure continuity for the clients. Ultimately, it all went very well. Apart from notification emails, the clients barely noticed anything, which is the best scenario.

Pieter, how did you get involved in this project? How is the workload distributed?

Pieter: I knew Floris from another project. We got along well, so when the question came to follow up on this project for LCL, I was all for it. The prospect of contributing to a sustainable data centre was particularly appealing, but also the fact that it’s a robust project with challenges. New to me is that at LCL, work is really done to the customer’s specifications, that's the main thing. For data centers, timing is also very specific and important. With every step, we have to think “does it affect the schedule?”, a challenge that we are taking on together with the contractor MBG-VMA.

Floris: The major challenge for our construction projects is that we often continue to build on an existing site and thus have to build next to live data centers. The reason for this is that connectivity is so essential that you cannot simply say “we’ll buy a plot across the street and put it there.” If all parties are connected and interconnected in one place, that’s an enormous added value that you cannot just recreate elsewhere. By continuing to build on our existing sites, we can offer the same connectivity to new and existing customers. When it comes to connectivity, we have a lot of support from the operations team. Naturally, it is their job to safeguard the data center.

Pieter Van Haegenbergh, Project Manager
Pieter Van Haegenbergh
Floris Smits, Project Department Manager
Floris Smits

Does the tight schedule also have to do with an urgent need for more space?

Floris: The current data center is nearing full capacity, and we need to guarantee continuity, hence the need to expand. It’s typical for LCL that we don’t go for a quick fix so that we can continue for now. No, we opt for a building that allows us to keep growing. In LCL Brussels-North, we are the most connected data center, if not the most connected place in Belgium, we want to create as much space as possible for new and current customers. If we offer expansion opportunities on-site for existing customers, we grow together. With this new data center in such a central location, we become the most important hub in Brussels.

Pieter: All carriers are located here in Diegem, joined by many customers who are also interconnected. It is in everyone’s interest that the carefully constructed ecosystem evolves without relocating.

What are innovations or new technologies that this data center will provide?

Floris: As a data center company, we are early adapters. When there is new, proven technology on the market, we move faster than the competition, but we are not a test case. Specifically, LCL Brussels-North 5 adopts a modular construction approach: the building will be completely finished on the outside, but inside, it will be done in phases. The ground floor will be set up to be operational right away, creating a 400m2 data center. The upper levels will retain a shell form, and will be furnished gradually. This means that we can accommodate the specific needs of the customer and offer tailor-made solutions in a possible sales trajectory.

Is there an increasing demand for these custom solutions?

Floris: The market is undergoing significant changes, in part due to the rise of AI. Training and using AI models requires unprecedented computational power and energy, so we need to anticipate that. Traditional air-based cooling methods no longer suffice for the required capacities, so the voices calling for the use of liquid cooling are getting louder. Due to AI, the operating temperatures for cooling are rising, but since liquid is a better heat conductor than air, we can achieve higher efficiency through liquid cooling. There are also more opportunities for new applications, such as heat recovery.

Render of the new data center at LCL Brussels-North
Render of the new data center at LCL Brussels-North

Would heat recovery be an additional step towards sustainability?

Floris: We have a lot of residual heat that just goes up into the air, while it could be used to heat companies or homes. In this way, data centers can position themselves as potential green energy sources. Therefore, we’re actively seeking ways to apply our residual heat sustainably, on all our sites. So at LCL Brussels-North, we are also currently exploring the possibilities in the vicinity. Effective space planning and establishing the required connections in the new building could turn this potential into a future reality.

Pieter: The structure will be robust, indeed a sturdy tower, but our intention is to weave sustainability into its very functionality wherever feasible.

Is it a challenging project? Where lie the greatest challenges?

Floris: (resolutely) Logistics!

Pieter: The space is limited, so logistically, it's quite a feat. For example, the site setup plan has been revised several times to for optimisation. It's difficult to accommodate everyone during construction, so we have rented office space from our neighbors, for which we are very grateful.

Floris: We aim to be of added value locally for our neighbors, just as for our customers and suppliers.

What does the expansion of LCL Brussels-North mean for the future of LCL?

Floris: LCL started here on this site in Diegem, more than 20 years ago by now. Rack by rack, that ecosystem was built. Each project gets bigger, just like the possibilities for our customers. We are increasingly meeting their desires. For the new building, we aim for the end of 2025 to have a ‘day one’ data center. This means that the building is completed, with a basic technical package. From then on, we can hand over spaces that customers can move into. At the end of the day, the expansion should be a statement for the headquarters of LCL. In this way, we can show where we came from and what we have become. But it's not the end, we are still asking ourselves: “what can we do next?”

So as Pieter oversees LCL Brussels-North, Floris can already forge plans for LCL's future, with peace of mind.

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