Fri, 25/01/2019 - 07:10
Current Issue 34
The Data Centre Superpower Behind the Digital Economy
Next Generation Data is not just Europe’s largest data centre. It’s a flagship facility that’s providing the platform for technological progression
Writer: Jonathan Dyble
Project Manager: Ashley Parfitt
The past four decades have seen the world become transformed by technology, evident in the advent of the internet in 1983. Since then, global connectivity has exploded to say the least.
Recent statistics have shown that there were 4.1 billion recorded internet users spanning the globe as of January 1, 2019, while Google currently processes over seven billion search queries a day.
In line with the global digital revolution, many companies’ IT operations continue to become more and more sophisticated, requiring ever more advanced technologies in order to store and manage increasingly complex data.
Contrary to popular belief, such data is stored in physical servers situated in expansive buildings that are the lifeblood of both the internet and huge numbers of progressive businesses.
These buildings, in many cases, are known as data centres.
“The data centre industry is often comparable to the construction industry,” explains Simon Bearne, Commercial Director of Next Generation Data (NGD). “Without good foundations, the development of adequate IT infrastructure is not possible as it will inevitably fall down.
“This is where facilities like our own come in, acting as the hidden face behind the success of global corporations, providing the platform that allows them to embrace digital technologies.”
Seizing the opportunity
Situated between Cardiff and Newport in South Wales, UK, the NGD facility currently stands at a monumental 750,000 square feet, large enough to freely rotate nine jumbo jets simultaneously across its three floors.
Renowned as Europe’s largest data centre, NGD has invested millions of pounds and expanded rapidly in the 12 years since its inception, when founders and serial entrepreneurs Nick Razey and Simon Taylor identified a major gap in the market.
Realising the struggles of many enterprise organisations, government departments and research establishments when it came to justifying the cost of operating their own servers, combined with the rapidly falling price of fibre networks, the duo decided to redevelop an unused site and create a revolutionary data centre.
“The building, equivalent in size to London Heathrow’s Terminal 5, had been standing empty for several years,” reveals Justin Jenkins, the company’s CEO. “Nick and Simon saw the opportunity to repurpose the site as a data centre like no other, and with the Welsh Assembly Government as landlord it was ideal.”
To this day, NGD’s location and size remain among its crucial differentiators, not limited by the confines of space and the power limitations that many of its competitors are increasingly struggling with.
“10 years ago, all the major data centres were clustered in and around London, partly to get the metro business affinity, but also because telecommunications bandwidth was expensive and located around the English capital,” explains Bearne.
“However, as bandwidth costs have since plummeted and the digital economy has taken off, our core out-of-town business model has proved to be a good bet as global digital players continue to raise their demands for facilities on the scale of NGD.
“Unlike many others, we are able to provide our customers with the option of seamless forward expansion whenever it may be required.”
Fast forward to the present day and NGD is home to an impressive and growing list of blue-chip corporations, global cloud service providers and major systems integrators including BT, IBM and Nokia, as well as UK government departments and one of the world’s largest software companies.
Effective and efficient
Despite being a defining factor in NGD’s market-leading scale, the size of the data centre is just one element of its unrivalled stature, with a second such differentiator being its power offerings.
Not only is all power 100 percent renewably sourced, the giant facility is connected directly to the national 400 kV Super Grid. NGD is able to draw as much as 180 MW from the grid, enough to deliver smooth, reliable power to 22,000 high-density racks. Further, discussions are underway to expand this to 270 MW in the future.
“To put this in perspective, 250 MW is the power consumed by a small city, while typical UK data centres are generally found to be in the five to 30 MW range,” reveals Jenkins
This connection is unique to NGD, and is a key reason as to why the facility has witnessed zero unplanned downtime since it commenced business in 2009.
The CEO continues: “97 percent of power delivery problems occur as a result of electricity distribution, something that we are able to completely bypass with our direct connection.”
Further, alongside this, NGD has also sought improvement by housing a construction village on-site, encouraging the establishment of a permanent manned core presence for its network of leading contractors such as SPIE, Schneider Electric, Stulz and Vertiv.
Similarly, the company also accommodates staff from many of its OEM vendors, with their on-site presence providing a depth of expertise. Working closely with its suppliers, NGD is able to both breed close relationships and maintain optimal structural efficiency throughout the business.
“This approach is part and parcel of how we maintain industry leading build times,” states Bearne. “We’ve never been confronted with a customer that needs a bespoke or custom build that we haven’t been able to deliver within a reasonable timeframe.”
All things combined, NGD secures a multitude of cost benefits, with its real estate financials being significantly lower than London and its manpower costs being 40 percent cheaper, while its power costs are 10 percent less than industry standard and build costs almost a third lower than those typically seen in data centres.
Advancement through adaptability
An innovative company by nature and a market pioneer by name, NGD is equally defined by its forward-thinking approach.
One such example of this can be found in the company’s attitudes towards critical power checks, regularly undertaking full-scale black testing to ensure that its systems and backup power networks will function correctly in the event of an emergency.
“Hoping for the best in the event of real-life loss of mains power simply isn’t an option,” explains Jenkins. “Absolute proof comes with black testing. “
“Every six months, with the permission of our customers, NGD isolates incoming mains grid power and for up to 16 seconds the uninterruptible power supply takes the full load while the emergency backup generators kick in.
“It’s done under strictly controlled conditions and we are only cutting the power to one side of a duplicated infrastructure, but it ensures we operate in the most reliable way possible.”
Similarly, the firm’s technical knowhow and wider services emphasise this admirable attitude, demonstrated by its flexible customer-first offerings.
Building in a modular fashion, NGD aligns its profiles to customer orders on a case-by-case basis, enabling it to incorporate the latest solutions and technologies to flexibly suit any of its customers’ needs.
“From standard co-location to hyperscale, we can work to any requirements,” says Bearne.
“Ultimately, its our mission to offer enterprise corporations and IT service providers with a world-class out of town colocation and IT services hosting facility that offers unprecedented levels of space, power and physical security at significantly lower costs compared to London and the surrounding area.”
Further, enabled by its ever-growing Rapid Build Programme, NGD is able to maintain a leading 16-week delivery timescale on any project, all the while maximising economies of scale and maintaining high quality throughout.
The firm’s staff are another crucial element of its success, renowned as some of the region’s leading industry experts.
“Skills shortages are not a huge issue for the company,” explains Bearne. “We’re a major tech business in the region, so it has become increasingly easy for us to both attract and retain the staff we need as the business has grown.”
Able to draw high performers from across Wales and South West England, described by the UK government as the home of the largest density of technology specialists and companies outside of Silicon Valley, NGD’s staff are well versed in dealing with the most complex and evolved data centre issues.
However, the company hires a diverse range of individuals, not only basing its decisions and recruitment on expertise but equally alternative skills, as Jenkins reveals.
“Some of our best people are great not because of their technical nous, but because of their attitude and soft skills,” he states. “There’s a strong argument for hiring the right people and then training them up with the relevant skills – something we actively seek to promote throughout the business with multiple initiatives.”
Alongside such initiatives, the company invests heavily on bolstering the facility and its capabilities year-on-year, investment that has been fundamental in allowing it to remain well ahead of the curve.
Last year alone, NGD invested over £40 million in the continued development of the data centre and its capabilities, and Jenkins is expecting similar figures for 2019.
“Much of this will go into our expansion plans, but we have also been concentrating on enhancing general facilities for client use, from meetings suites to additional offices, better security, and a new operational centre to better cater to the size and scale of our facilities,” he states.
Equally, with the arrival of the hyper-connected internet of things (IoT) and the rapid rise in cloud adoption, data centre connectivity will continue to become ever-more crucial – a fact that NGD has identified with its recent investments.
Bearne reveals: “Cloud is fast becoming mainstream, and we’ve invested quite considerably in our carrier relationships. We know that a data centre is only as good as its communications infrastructure, so we have sought to focus on this heavily.”
“It is safe to say that the industry is on the up, with more and more projects involving high-performance computing (HPC) and supporting complex technologies such as artificial intelligence that consume more power per unit area.
“All of these things require not only the most advanced IT solutions, but equally first-class connectivity solutions in order to succeed, something that our investments have been helping to ensure.”
Alongside this, the evolution of rack densities remains one of the most promising areas of development in the data centre industry, and is one that the company remains heavily involved in.
“It’s something we absolutely love,” Bearne continues, “and it really plays to the way we’ve always operated.”
“With our custom builds and technical knowhow, combined with our close relationships with vendors, we’re very good at coming up with all manner of bespoke solutions surrounding cooling, stretching right into high performance computing (HPC) – not something that every data centre can do.”
Keeping it simple by concentrating on the basics such as the provision of space, power and cooling, and doing so better than any of its competitors by using the best technologies around and best practice, NGD continues to make progress on all fronts.
A true entrepreneurial success story, NGD has redefined the way in which outsourced data centre service provision can and should be done in the modern-day digital era.
With its unrivalled space, security, power, resilience and optimal energy management, alongside the provision of multiple high-speed fibre and cloud connectivity solutions, the company offers a scalable, future-proof solution, establishing itself as an industry figurehead and world class data centre brand.
Looking ahead, having succeeded in breaking the data centre mould by championing innovation on all fronts, Jenkins asserts NGD will strive, as ever, to achieve new levels of critical facilities and operational excellence in order to go above and beyond.
The CEO concludes: “As the scale, intensity and economics of running data centres continues to heighten, we expect that fewer enterprises will elect to run their own.
“Should this be the case, then I’m proud to say that as one of the most affordable and best independently run facilities, not only in Europe but across the globe, NGD will remain well positioned to capitalise on both new business and expanding market trends as we continue to provide the latest, most effective and most efficient solutions to our customers.”