The great New Zealand datacentre build-out

The twin demands of reliable power and efficient cooling are the killers of many older facilities

New Zealand could be undergoing its biggest ever datacentre capacity increase as operators across the country build and rebuild their facilities to increase quality, deliver new services and to deal with new technology.

At the end of this month, ISP and datacentre operator Orcon, which is based in Auckland, will open its new state-of-the-art facility, while Revera has built new matching facilities in Auckland and Wellington.

Maxnet has invested over half a million dollars in power system upgrades over the past year while in Wellington Catalyst has similarly upgraded cooling and power systems.

Back in Auckland, Iconz has recently installed a 30kVa cooling unit and has ordered a 60kVa unit (Computerworld, April 23), aiming to keep cooling capacity at twice the required level.

Orcon’s technical operations manager Beren Patterson says there are quite a few different philosophies when it comes to datacentre design, but Orcon’s new facility is modelled on the EDS approach.

“We’ve gone for an expandable, modular approach,” Patterson explains, surrounded by the cables and cabinets and discarded packaging that on Tuesday will be transformed for the launch of the company’s bright, light, high-ceilinged new facility.

Orcon’s rows of racks will be cooled by alternating cold and hot rows over a raised platform about a metre high. Cold air is pumped up through the floor in alternating rows with the hot air expelled out the back into the “hot row” before rising to the ceiling.

Orcon’s chillers, Patterson says, are the largest commercial air conditioning units available, at 100kVa. There are two of them and each weighs almost two tons.

The grilled cabinets and the cooling system allow a mix of standard and blade servers to be hosted. If it was a totally blade environment, the cabinets could be sealed and have cold air pumped through internally. However, the design chosen allows more flexibility, Patterson explains.

Orcon’s cabinets, at a metre deep, are much larger than anything the company has previously used and boast dual 32-amp power for high draw devices.

“Even a few years ago you could have got away with 10-amp,” says Patterson — roughly the same as a power socket in the home. Patterson says the dual demands of extra power and cooling are “datacentre killers”.

“Sometimes it’s better to start again,” he says.

Revera chief executive Wayne Norrie (Computerworld, May 14) agrees, saying the 1980s-style datacentre is “not able to cope” as server density increases. Revera’s cooling approach is based on an Italian model which, he says, focuses on the cool air rather than the hot.

Air has to pass across the blades at the right speed to provide maximum cooling efficiency, he says.

“It’s not just blowing air down an aisle,” he says. “No cold air is wasted and it’s controlled and directed dynamically and none escapes.”

The Orcon facility was designed and built by Auckland-based company Aline. Project manager Les Day says most datacentre customers really don’t know what they need.

“It used to be that fibre cabling was the jewel in the crown of the datacentre,” he says. “Now it’s power and airconditioning.”

That’s because of the arrival of more powerful — and power-hungry — servers permits a massive intensification of processing capacity. Day says racks have gone from being simple shelves to hold servers to being a piece of architecture, designed to allow air to cool the equipment inside. Racks and their design are now one of the most important features of a datacentre, he says.

In addition, every company’s needs and situation are different and racks may have to be customised. Orcon’s racks can manage a mix of standard and blade servers, while another datacentre that Aline built recently, for Deutsche Bank, was a pure blade environment, in which the racks are enclosed.

“It’s a different type where the air is forced into the rack and not allowed to escape,” he says.

Revera’s new datacentres, in Auckland and Wellington, will each be able to house north of 6,000 servers and with virtualisation each physical server can accommodate up to 10 virtual servers, delivering a range of benefits to users. Orcon’s datacentre boasts similar multiples, able to house 96 processors in a single cabinet or 1,000 per row, Patterson says.

Most of the installed cabinets, taking up about half the floor-space, are expected to be filled immediately by existing customers, but Patterson says there is room for a further 60 cabinets. Despite this, the company expects these too to be filled in the next year as companies look for premium facilities.

As to power, eight cables run into the plant from an upgraded transformer. One huge uninterruptible power supply is in evidence and being installed at the time Computerworld visited and another is due to arrive shortly. In all, there is room for four. At the front of the complex is the room for the generator, due to be delivered late last week. Patterson calls it “Orcon’s first power plant”.

As well as providing redundancy, datacentres have to be physically secure. Patterson points to painted marks where ram-bars will shortly be installed and to the metal doors that are the first part of a major upgrade to access security. And then there are the alarms, the cameras...

In another change the new datacentre will be totally managed by Orcon. Just around the corner from the new facility is the company’s old one, which was managed by Vector and received some bad press earlier in the year due to heating and power problems.

All up the project has cost “around $1 million”, says Patterson, admitting the company drove some hard bargains.

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