02 september 2015

Blueprint for the perfect data centre (3): Location

written by Marco Alink

A few years ago, I was involved in the construction of a brand new data centre. This is quite a luxury for a data centre manager as I was able to furnish the building entirely in accordance with the latest technologies. At the same time it was also a challenge, however, as the blueprint for a perfect data centre just does not exist. I would like to share with you my decisions and considerations. After the articles on cooling and security, let's turn our attention to location.

The location of a data centre is not always given careful consideration. The choice of location usually arises from a historical context. Someone sets up a server park in the attic, for example, and then keeps expanding it over the years. As time goes on, very little thought is given to moving the data centre elsewhere. Many of these data centres can be found in the Randstand area of the Netherlands. You also see the same type of invariability among companies, who want to keep their data as close to themselves as possible. I believe you have to let go of this emotional element. After all, the site of a data centre is very important. In fact, its location largely determines what you can offer as a service provider and what performance you can guarantee.

Above sea level

,p>There are a number of criteria you can use to choose a data centre location. One important factor is the location's level of risk, with risks being understood in the broadest sense of the word. As already mentioned in my blog on the security of our data centre, locating a data centre in a busy area can present a risk in relation to theft. On the other hand, risks also include disasters.

How great is the risk of flooding? Are there any chemical plants nearby? These are all important things to consider. Due to the frequent floods in the Netherlands, it was important for us to locate our data centre above sea level. It is interesting to take a look at the risk map for the Netherlands. This is an objective source which maps out the risks of all locations in the country.

Importance of the AMS-IX

Another important factor to consider when choosing the location of a data centre is connectivity. Data centres have to be connected to the global fibre glass network and the closer you are to major internet exchanges, the greater the accessibility of your data centre. For this reason, many companies want to be sited near to the AMS-IX. This internet exchange point makes it possible to connect to providers that have networks around the world. Data only has to travel a short distance and this is reflected in the performance of the data centre.

Yet it is all too easy to say that you must always be located close to the AMS-IX. Firstly, a location close to an exchange point is particularly advantageous when it comes to latency, or the reaction time of a connection. However, latency is only really crucial for certain applications, such as payment traffic or UDP traffic (a protocol used in voice communications). If you do not use these types of applications in your data centre, then latency becomes less of an important factor and a location near to the AMS-IX is not really necessary. Furthermore, the AMS-IX is not the only internet exchange point in the world. Google, for example, decided to build a large data centre in Eemshaven because of a major internet exchange point sited nearby. And in Germany you have the DE-CIX, a similarly large exchange point that can easily be accessed from the Netherlands. We ourselves made the decision to base our data centre between the AMS-IX and DE-CIX. The advantage of this is that you are not entirely dependent upon the AMS-IX for connectivity. In addition, we have built infrastructure at the AMS-IX and DE-CIX to give us a direct, virtually uninterrupted connection with these exchange points. We can therefore guarantee a similar level of performance as those companies that have located their data centres very close to the AMS-IX.

Subtropical swimming pool

A third factor to consider when choosing a location is a good power supply. Data centres use an extraordinary amount of power, certainly when you compare it to other sectors of industry. In addition, the amount of power they use is relatively consistent. Energy suppliers must be able to cope with this demand, which not all of them are able to do. Some of the equipment in the electricity grid is relatively old and needs to be replaced before this power can be supplied. This type of problem occurs mainly in the west of the Netherlands. Investments must be made by TenneT in its network, the costs of which are then passed on in the price of energy from the supplier. Generally speaking, the cost of transport is lower in the east and north of the Netherlands than in the Randstad area.

Another factor relating to energy supply is residual heat. What do you do with it? The ideal situation would be to reuse the residual heat and this is indeed happening more frequently. We use the residual heat we generate, for example, to heat up our own premises. The best thing, in fact, would be to build a data centre next to a subtropical swimming pool as the heat that is removed from the data centre has just the right temperature.

In addition to electricity, another factor is the cost of land, which is particularly high near to the big cities. This price, in turn, partly determines the proposition you can make as a service provider. In any case, the cheap power supply and low land costs were important reasons for us to choose Hengelo as the site for our data centre.

This contribution follows on from the articles entitled Blueprint for the perfect data centre (1): cooling system and Blueprint for the perfect data centre (2): security.

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