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Experts discuss the growth of the data centre industry

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The growth in technology in the GCC has prompted a rise in data centres in the region.
The growth in technology in the GCC has prompted a rise in data centres in the region.

Data centres have come a long way from their roots in the early years of the computing industry.

Back when computer systems were complex to maintain and operate and required a special environment to run, data centre rooms came into force as storage units for these huge pieces of equipment.

Early versions of these rooms formed the basis of what we know as data centres today, with cables connecting components and standard racks being used to mount equipment. Elevated floors and cable trays also came into use around this time.

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Further drawing the links between modern day MEP and Data Centres, the genesis of security systems that protected the servers and data within them were also developed around this time.

As the microcomputer industry boomed during the late 1980s and early 1990’s, companies became aware of the need to control IT resources.

As client server computing found its feet and microcomputers (or servers) began to take over the old computer rooms, companies found it was possible to use a hierarchical design that put the servers in specific rooms in companies, thus forming data centres as we know them today.

With the advent of the technology boom in the GCC, there has been a swift embracement of data centres from companies based in the region, and as a result a number of companies specialising in their development and maintenance have flocked to cities like Dubai and set up shop.

One such company is Syska Hennessy, the US based consulting, engineering and commissioning firm, which set up a joint venture in Dubai Internet City and hopes to corner the market in the region.

“Syska has been active in the Middle East for more than 30 years, but we’ve never had a permanent presence,” says Gregory Jasmin, co-managing director of the MENA office.

He adds that the JV, which has been in operation since October 2011, will focus on providing mission-critical support and expertise in information communications technology and intelligent building systems (IBS) for projects related to critical facilities/data centres, high rises, mixed use developments, healthcare, aviation and higher education facilities.

As such, Jasmin is well placed to cast an eye over the growth of the data centre industry and he says that he expects usage and growth in the region due to the ‘growing use of the internet and technology, coupled with the fact that many core private and public organisations are growing.’

“From banks, telcos, utilities to government agencies, the use of E-commerce and M-commerce, the growth of mobile technology and internet video, as well as social media in the region is increasing the need for data centres,” he explains.

This is borne out by the results Syska Hennessey MENA has posted in the first few months of operation, with the firm snapping up projects such as the CMA Tower in Riyadh and the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. It also has other projects in Oman and UAE.

Bassem Hariri, the other half of the managing partner duo, says that picking up these projects were picked up with relative ease due to the increased awareness that clients have displayed.

“Clients in the region are looking for ways to improve their data centre infrastructure, while also looking at innovative technologies and energy efficiency. As clients depend more on the data centre for their growing core business, the awareness of how critical these systems are to their business is also increasing.

They now realise what an outage or downtime can cost them, financially and public relations wise,” he says assertively.

In terms of MEP work, both Jasmin and Hariri say that it is vital for data centre developers to adopt best practices for their projects as 70% to 75% of the cost of a data centre comes from MEP works.

“Everything from cooling and heat rejection equipment to UPSs and generators, water storage, thermal storage tanks, gaseous fire protection to High Sensitivity Smoke Detection system (HSSD). It takes a high level of speciality and experience to design, build, and commission and operate these systems,” adds Jasmin.

With this in mind, Don Beaty, an ASHRAE instructor, says that there is an urgent need for a unified code for data centre developers to follow to ensure that best practice is achieved.

“In 2002, ASHRAE created a technical committee specialising in data centres. It is called TC 9.9 and its title is “Mission Critical Facilities, Technology Spaces, and Electronic Equipment.” The title is broad and all encompassing because to truly address data centres, you require a view from the chip to the atmosphere,” he says.

“Prior to the committee, there was no consistency in the temperatures that data centres operated at, but the dominant them was ‘cold’. The temperatures were determined more through anecdotal means and much of this was caused by each computer manufacturer having its own temperature requirements.”

“To solve this, the committee requested thermal experts from all the major manufacturers (committee members mainly) to come to recommended and allowable temperatures that they could all agree to.

In 2004, ASHRAE published a book on this topic called, “Thermal Guidelines for Data Processing Environments.” This book provided a quotable source for operating temperatures and established a recommended range, rather than a single temperature. That range was 20˚C to 25˚C,” Beaty explained.

“In 2008, we revised our book and widened the temperature range to 18˚C to 27˚C. This further enabled energy conservation techniques. In 2011, we wrote a white paper that provided even wider temperatures depending on the Server Class. The 2011 white paper is currently being incorporated into the 2012 version of the Thermal Guideline Book.”

Jasmin adds that MEP designers and engineers need to understand their client’s business and what they’re trying to accomplish with the data centre. Once this is realised, then designers and engineers must tailor their designs to match this intent.

“It’s not one solution fits all. Each client has a different growth curve and different life expectancy of their data centre. Some data centres are transitional infrastructure and some are for the long term. By understanding the growth curve, expected lifetime and business intent, a flexible, modular, scalable and cost effective solution can be developed,” he says.

Beaty says that he thinks data centre designers and engineers should acquaint themselves with ASHRAE’s books as it would provide a guideline for them in the absence of a GCC specific code. In terms of working in the GCC, Hariri says that there are particular challenges when it comes to working in the region.

Chief amongst is the importance of educating clients on the value of doing things differently from what they’re used to.

“Clients in the GCC do not understand the complexity to design, build, commission and operate data centres. They perceive it as another server room or regular building infrastructure.

For example, they underestimate the value of having a specialised data centre consultant leading their project and having the consultant do 100% of the design before going out to tender and having an open specification or performance based specification for projects, instead of tying it to a particular vendor or product,” he says.

“Getting specialised data centre contractors early on in a project, working hand in hand with the design team and still getting a competitive market pricing. Although some clients may resist these things, their value is seen immediately by the quality and cost of the projects,” Hariri added.

However, Jasmin says that while there isn’t a unified data centre code, there are regulations in place that help shape the performance of data centres to the good, especially in terms of fire protection and electrical systems.

“For example, the uses of gaseous fire protection for electrical rooms, as opposed to a double interlock pre-action system. The other big one is closed transition transfer of loads. Some power utility companies do not allow closed transaction transfers.

This is a make-before-break load transfer scheme, in which the generator is operated in parallel with the utility source for a brief period of time, to ensure that the load is maintained while in transition from the utility to the generator and vice versa,” he explains, though he concedes that this is not a problem in the US, where proper design and protective relays eliminate the need for it.

Despite this, both remain optimistic about the growth opportunities available in the GCC, with government investment likely to prove especially crucial over the course of 2012.

“We are expecting the co-location market to mature quickly across the GCC and government agencies to invest heavily on data centre infrastructure,” Jasmin says.

Bladeroom and RED Eng complete 2,229m2 project
BladeRoom has recently completed six data centres totalling 2229m2 IT space which have been shipped to Australia.

A further data centre has been installed in South Africa as phase 1 of a 6.75MW project. Further units have also been installed for an Investment bank, and a hospital trust.

Ark Continuity Limited, one of Europe’s leading data centre providers, recently delivered a new, two storey, BladeRoom data centre ahead of schedule.

The modular design and scalable build techniques enabled the rapid deployment of the 1217m2 facility, of which 966m2 of IT space houses 364 cabinets at an average density of 4.2kW each.

The power & cooling infrastructure has been developed to complement the deployment strategy ensuring the solution is scalable to grow in line with client demand.

The product has an intelligent cooling system to provide close control and ensure free cooling is available for around 99.7% of the year resulting in a proven over all systems average PUE of 1.14.

This project was deployed in just 17 weeks from contract to meet all objectives of modular scalable delivery without compromising sustainability, availability or security.

“The BladeRoom data centre product has been design with the Middle East climate and growing data centre industry very much in mind and is able to achieve over 99% free cooling and a PUE of about 1.14 in locations such as Riyadh. Red and BladeRoom are currently pursuing a number of significant opportunities in the region,” said Nick Vaney of RED Engineering.

BladeRoom became the world’s first data centre to offer, in Riyadh and similar climates, proven 99.2% free cooling and PUE of 1.14.

Its efficiency is so high that a 1Mw BladeRoom datacentre in Riyadh would use,in a year, only the same amount of water that evaporates in a year from four ordinary residential swimming pools.

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