Hyperscale inspired: getting ready for OCP

    Gérard Thibault, Kao Data
    Gérard Thibault, Kao Data

    The Open Compute Project (OCP) is seeking to adapt hyperscale innovation and roll this out across the data centre sector. Sharing efficiency and cost-saving approaches across the sector has the potential to advance practice and transform the industry. Kao Data’s Gérard Thibault speaks to Louise Frampton about how the company is becoming ‘OCP ready’

    Openness is not something normally associated with the data centre sector – data centres have historically kept their secrets closely guarded, protected by non-disclosure agreements, and hidden behind anonymous, high-security walls. This could be about to change, however, with the adoption of open compute principles. 

    The Open Compute Foundation believes that sharing ideas, specifications and other intellectual property is the key to maximising innovation. So, what exactly is an ‘OCP-ready’ facility and how can wholesale colocation providers benefit from this expanding market?

    Project origins

    In 2009, Facebook was growing exponentially, offering new services and giving millions of people a platform to share photos and videos. Looking ahead, the company realised that it had to rethink its infrastructure to accommodate the huge influx of new people and data, and also control costs and energy consumption. This prompted Facebook to embark on the challenge of designing the world’s most energy efficient data centre; one that could handle unprecedented scale at the lowest possible cost. 

    A team of engineers spent the next two years designing and building from the ground up: software, servers, racks, power supplies and cooling. The resulting data centre, which now stands in Prineville, Oregon, was 38% more energy efficient to build and 24% less expensive to run than the company’s previous facility.

    In 2011, Facebook shared its designs with the public and, along with Intel and Rackspace, Goldman Sachs and Andy Bechtolsheim, launched the Open Compute Project. The five members of the OCP Foundation hoped to create a movement in the hardware space that would bring about the same kind of creativity and collaboration seen in open source software. 

    OCP Data Centre Facility

    As part of this initiative, the OCP Data Centre Facility (DCF) project was developed to maximise the mechanical performance, and thermal and electrical efficiency of Open Compute Project servers. 

    Research, conducted by IHS Markit and commissioned by OCP, has revealed that the main drivers of adoption include power efficiency and reduced cost, together with standardisation and quick deployment capability. 

    Colocation spaces that can meet the demands of OCP and help cascade these benefits will become increasingly important in the future. 

    The DCF project focuses on five functional areas of the data centre: power; cooling; IT space layout and design; facility management and control; and facility operations. Forward-thinking data centre operators have the opportunity to become ‘OCP ready’ and among the first of these, in Europe, is Kao Data. The OCP Foundation is working with two data centres – one US and one European (Kao Data) – as part a pilot programme. Having joined the DCF Project, the recently completed London One facility has become the first data centre to self-audit against Open Compute’s checklist for compliance with its engineering principles. The process will be complete when Kao Data presents its results during the OCP Regional Summit in Amsterdam on 1-2 October.

    Design principles

    Kao Data’s London One facility was designed and constructed to deliver power efficiency and resilience, low cost of operations (as a result of reduced electrical and mechanical engineering complexity), standardisation and fast deployment capability. 

    After extensive onsite assessments of the data centre, the data centre has been found to be structurally, technically and operationally capable of providing organisations deploying Open Compute Project designed solutions and equipment with an infrastructure platform that meets the central design concepts laid out in the OCP DCF project.

    “Hyperscale data centres have gained benefit from adopting OCP technology and, in Kao Data’s discussions with potential customers, OCP is increasingly a topic of conversation as, although initially an equipment driven concept, it has very real physical requirements from the data centre building itself. They can capitalise on the benefits driven into the servers and cabinets, by people such as Facebook, which means their IT platforms are more cost effective, and we can provide a data centre in which these OCP solutions sit comfortably,” comments Kao Data chief technology officer Gérard Thibault. He points out that many colocation data centres are not designed to cope with OCP-type IT infrastructure, including the weight of the cabinets (as many are delivered pre-built to offer further efficiencies). 

    “OCP racks commonly weigh around 1,300kg per rack. Locating and moving these on a raised floor can be logistically difficult. In addition, with weights moving towards 1,500kg, even details such as goods lift capacity and the gradient of ramps are important. The height of the OCP racks can also be a problem as these can go up to 58U. At London One, the facility has been designed to ensure that racks of this size can be received into the data centre. There is no raised floor (as it is constructed from solid concrete), so weight is not an issue,” he continues. 

    London One also meets the OCP objectives around efficiency. The facility utilises indirect evaporative cooling with no mechanical refrigeration to meet Ashrae TC 9.9 environmental standards and delivers an ultra-low PUE <1.2 even at partial load. Thibault points out that there are other energy efficiency benefits associated with OCP design.

    “With an OPC rack, access to the servers is from the front; as you do not need to access the back, you can drive up the hot aisle temperatures, which is much more efficient. OCP is about driving cost efficiencies – not just in terms of capex for the servers and racks, but also in terms of opex; they are trying to get people to realise that servers are quite happy operating in an environment that may stray up to 30oC, for a couple of hours per day – when it is warm. Historically, data centres tried to keep the data hall like a fridge and this costs money.”

    Kao Data also claims to go beyond the OCP requirements, in relation to the operating environment: “One key aspect, in relation to the warranty of servers, is the condition of the atmosphere – whether it has the potential to corrode silver solder and copper components on a circuit board, and lead to failures. As well as monitoring temperature and humidity, we monitor gaseous contamination, to ensure that warranties are not compromised, and that the environment stays within an acceptable range,” Thibault explains.

    Power is another key focus area for the OCP Foundation. London One is configured to provide up to 20kW per rack, with the infrastructure to match that capability, providing:

    • Availability up to 99.999%

    • Back-up N+1 diesel generators, dedicated tanks ensuring operation at full load for at least 24 hours and a maximum of 48 hrs, with priority refuelling contracts in place

    • UPS – two independent (redundant) power supply systems available for a minimum of five minutes (at power failure)

    Thibault acknowledges that the preference for OCP is not to provide a centralised UPS. However, he favours a more pragmatic approach. “We are providing a flexible solution. We have a centralised UPS that can be used in the space, although OCP server racks offer the ability to ‘push’ the UPS element of the power system down to the rack level. Providing individual UPS is much more expensive than providing it on a room basis, in my view. But we can offer the option of providing generator backup power to the room, so that the OCP servers can use their local battery racks, or we can provide a central UPS facility if preferred,” he explains. 

    Another key focus area of the OCP DCF project is facility management and control, which is primarily concerned with data centre information management (DCIM), building management systems (BMS) and power monitoring. 

    “Kao Data has standardised on the Schneider Electric EcoStruxure Platform, which feeds back all the information on mechanical plant to our control room and raises alarms if there are any issues. There is also an opportunity to identify trends, so that we can fine-tune the operation of the data centre, particularly on the cooling side, and ultimately improve efficiency. On the power monitoring side, we use the Schneider PME software on the EcoStruxure system, and this helps us to identify any alarms and monitor the status of the electrical systems. It also gives us some trending information, such as the ageing of circuit breakers. This allows us to look at predictive maintenance to ensure we are always available,” comments Thibault. 

    The final focus OCP area relates to facility operations, and Kao Data has been able to comply with OCP principles by using tools such as EcoStruxure with a team of engineers capable of interpreting and reacting appropriately to the data provided. Ultimately, Kao Data CEO Jan Daan Luycks believes that the values of openness and collaboration, espoused by the OCP Foundation, will provide a “spur to innovation in the data centre sector”. The plan is for OCP to introduce a ‘stamp of approval’ for facilities – just as the Uptime Institute certifies data centres according to its Tier system. Compliant facilities will be certified as ‘OCP ready’. The success of the project, in the long term will depend on the sector’s ability to embrace the values of openness and collaboration, and this will require a cultural shift. If colocation data centres take inspiration from the hyperscalers, and cascade this across the sector, the benefits could be significant.


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