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What it takes to power a Tier IV cloud data centre

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Business Connexion has invested a further R23-million in additional upgrades to its Midrand data centre, substantially increasing the electricity supply to the facility and providing headroom for growth.

The effort – and expense – required to power a data centre, which underpins cloud computing is remarkable, being substantial, complex and risky. It is for these reasons that the company is pleased to announce the on-time, on-budget completion of the project.
In the data centre environment, one of the key challenges to creating the massive capacity which is required for IaaS (infrastructure as a service) providers like Business Connexion, is the available electricity supply, confirms Sakkie Burger, managing executive of national data centre services at the company.
“Effectively, we had more space in this data centre than we could use, unless the electricity supply and associated back-up generation received a boost.”
That is in part owing to ever-shrinking computer components; it is today possible to achieve massively more from machines a fraction of the size of their predecessors. However, these machines are power-hungry, and they are fussy about the electricity they consume.
“Part of the challenge in an upgrade of this nature is that the power supply has to be very stable, very predictable and very reliable. Add to that, the fact that this is a working facility and no disruption to clients can be tolerated,” he explains.
IaaS refers to companies which provide computing power, storage, software, infrastructure or other information and communication-powered services.
“The demand for these sorts of services is increasing steadily, as more companies come to appreciate the cost savings and flexibility associated with this procurement model,” Burger continues. “With the upgrade to the power supply into the data centre, we are positioned to take advantage of that demand.”
With the project approved by Business Connexion’s board of directors in September 2010, its successful conclusion this May sees the addition of a further 1MvA (megavolt ampere) capacity to the data centre. While that may not mean much to the layman, or even to clients procuring ICT services from the company, it means a lot to the data centre managers.
That’s because it means the ability to put a lot more computing power into the facility. And what goes into enabling that capacity is fascinating.
“As one of only two Tier IV design certified data centres in Africa, increasing the power supply is far from a trivial event,” Burger explains. “Tier IV is the highest global standard for data centre reliability and resilience; the upgrade effectively took place in a working data centre which cannot endure any downtime.”
All the company’s clients continued processing during scheduled shutdowns of one of the duplicated plant room facilities, resulting in zero impact on their businesses, Burger says.
“This is owing to the centre operating in tandem with a twin, remote facility. The shutdowns, highly unusual events for a data centre of this capacity, provided the opportunity to test our ability to meet up to the Tier IV requirements,” he adds. “Normally, extensive downtime will be required for upgrades of this magnitude for clients who host in lower-tiered data centres.”
Delivering on the project required input from over 250 people onsite, with a further 200 specialists on standby should any difficulties eventuate.
As a consequence of the upgrade, the data centre now features eight generators, four more than before, an additional two uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices to bring the total to six, and six additional air conditioning units. Some 1 300 metres of cabling also went into the data centre; at over 15 kilograms per metre, that is over a ton of material.
In its quest to optimise electricity consumption, Burger says meters were installed on all power boards to accurately measure power usage effectiveness. “This is necessary to manage the company’s carbon footprint and to ensure that every watt of power consumed produces an outcome,” he notes.
John Jenkins, chief executive of the services group at Business Connexion, notes that as one of only two companies in the southern hemisphere to operate a Tier IV data centre, it has a proven understanding of energy efficiency well.
“Enabling clients to outsource infrastructure operations highlights the role cloud computing plays in reducing energy consumption,” he says.
“By necessity and design, this facility is geared for optimal efficiency and minimal environmental impact. The next phase of this project will be the introduction of specialised energy saving devices imported from the United Kingdom with guaranteed electricity savings.”
With the completion of this project, Jenkins adds that Business Connexion takes another leap forward in its ability to deliver managed cloud-based services from locally-owned and managed facilities.
“It’s another way in which we are making the notion of connective intelligence happen for our clients – combining technology leadership with human expertise to create an advantage,” concludes Jenkins.