Life on the edge: global interconnection and the need for resilience

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    Equinix’s UK managing director Russell Poole discusses strategies for ensuring resillient global interconnection, how data centres can address the issue of energy efficiency and why he is not concerned about Brexit. Louise Frampton reports.

     

    With 188 sites, in 44 markets worldwide, Equinix specialises in enabling global interconnection between organisations and their employees, customers, partners, data and Clouds. More than 1,275 companies currently colocate in the 11 Equinix data centres based in London and Manchester alone. Ensuring uptime is critical to the business therefore.

    Building resilience into a data centre is all about design, training and testing, and it has to be an ongoing strategy, according to Equinix’s UK managing director Russell Poole: “In simplistic terms, data centres are big buildings full of machines run by humans; machines break and humans make mistakes – you have to design for this,” he comments.

    “A data centre built 10 years ago will have been built to a very different standard to a data centre built today – we invest significantly in updating infrastructure to deliver additional levels of resilience.

    “When we build our latest facility, we go back retrospectively to the rest of the portfolio. Our standard level of resilience is 2N+1. This makes it very hard for a single issue to cause a problem,” says Poole. He adds that it is important to rigorously test for a wide variety of different scenarios. Equinix has a specialist team dedicated to testing the company’s data centres around the world, looking for single points of failure.

    “It is quite an uncomfortable process – no one wants to be told that their ‘baby is ugly’,” comments Poole. He adds that it is important to demonstrate that the infrastructure works on the building load. “It needs to be tested in the real world – not just in a theoretical situation or test environment,” Poole continues. Mitigating the risk posed by human factors is also crucial, as recent high-profile outages experienced by British Airways and other enterprises have demonstrated.

    “Switching is normally the most dangerous area – switching off equipment that shouldn’t be switched off is surprisingly common in the data centre sector,” comments Poole. “Often this is due to third-party engineers performing maintenance work. You need to supervise them correctly and have a ‘script’ for what is going to happen, with one person performing the work and another overseeing it. They need to follow the process of: ‘this is what I’m going to do’, ‘do you approve it?’; and checks must be made before anything is done.”

    Training is crucial and must focus on ensuring processes are: written, updated and, most importantly, followed. Beyond this, training for the future of the industry sector is also a key passion for Poole. He believes there is a pressing need to tackle the skills gap within the data centre sector. Within the past five years, Equinix has established an apprenticeship programme to address this issue and seen all 15 graduates accept positions within the organisation.

    “I look at it as growing a youth team. From an educational perspective, it was obvious to us that the UK government had decided to maximise the number of people going to university. A lot of people were coming out having had a great time, with a degree of no use to them or any industry, while having accumulated a large amount of debt.

    “We wanted to offer something for those who wanted to take a different, more vocational path and build a career outside of that academic framework. We will be growing our apprenticeship programme further, throughout 2017/18. Legislation now means that a certain amount of payroll has to be spent on apprenticeships and we are already ahead of this.”

    He adds that he is particularly interested in the potential of university technical colleges – children of 14 years old have a curriculum that is 60% academic and 40% vocational; then, at 16, this balance shifts in favour of vocational study.

    “Students come out with qualifications that are actually useful,” says Poole, pointing out that there are already successful schemes established with Jaguar Land Rover and Microsoft. These schemes are focused on developing the skills for the future of their respective industry sectors and Equinix is now looking at whether there is scope to become involved, with a view to supporting the development of a skills base for the future of the data centre sector.

    He acknowledges that there is work to be done to raise the profile of data centre career pathways and the company is currently working with local schools to address this issue.

    This includes hosting open evenings for children and parents with a view to offering an insight into the sector and its opportunities. Poole says that there is a need to encourage more women into the sector: “The apprenticeship is currently all boys; we have had just one female applicant in the whole five years. I would like to find a way of getting more girls interested in this as a career. There is no reason why they shouldn’t. It feels like a missed opportunity.

    “We need some role models. In our company, we have an equal gender mix in the non-technical areas of the business, yet engineering and technical is almost 100% male,” he comments, adding: “I think there is a misconception that engineering is a ‘dirty world’, when in fact the data centre is a pleasant working environment.

    “We are also a progressive company. People who started in technical engineering roles are now in leadership positions all over the world. There are career tracks where people can become master technicians, so they can follow a technical path that gives them seniority, with associated rewards. You have to create that journey for those who want it.”

    Energy efficiency 

    Reducing energy use and sustainability are other key areas of interest for Equinix. “We are effectively ensuring that the amount of renewable power put into the grid is equal to the amount we consume,” says Poole.

    Equinix has a long-term goal of using 100% clean and renewable energy for its global platform and continues to make advancements in the way it designs, builds and operates its data centres with high energy efficiency standards.

    For example, Equinix’s Amsterdam data centres at Science Park realise significant energy savings and reduction in their CO2 footprint using an in-ground aquifer thermal energy storage, instead of mechanical cooling, and has one of the lowest operating PUE’s in the retail colocation sector.

    Equinix datacentre at Amsterdam Science Park

    In the US, Equinix has invested heavily in renewables and the company was ranked 16th by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Top 100 List of the largest green power users. Equinix uses more than 571 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power annually, which represents 43% of its total US power needs.

    “In terms of energy consumption, we invest heavily in cooling technology, which offers greater levels of efficiency. This has been an interesting area for us; we are using free cooling when it is cold outside, rather than using refrigeration all the time, as well as using adiabatic cooling.”

    LD6, in Slough, is also designed to be as energy efficient as possible. The site has a borehole that is “as deep as the Shard is tall”, which allows water to be extracted to support adiabatic cooling.

    In addition, at sites where traditional chilled water systems operate, variable speed devices are used to maximise efficiency.

    However, Poole believes that PUE has gone as low as it can “without magic” within the data centre sector. “We are dealing with physics at the end of the day… The technology will continue to improve but sub-one PUE is a long way off,” he comments.

    So are there other potential areas where Equinix could look to improve its sustainability credentials? In the past, Equinix has looked at demand-side response schemes but the perceived risk proved to be a factor in the company’s decision not to participate.

    “The economic arguments haven’t stacked up, yet,” argues Poole, “The risk/reward profile hasn’t worked for us.”

    Poole agrees with the Uptime Institute’s observation that there is increasing innovation and interest around onsite power generation in the data centre sector, however.

    “One area that we are looking at is the use of modularised gas turbine power generation. We have some systems deployed in the US and we are considering them for other locations in Europe,” he commented. While such systems are unsuitable for its UK sites, onsite generation is an area that Equinix will continue to watch closely. “One day, it may make sense to build our own power station,” he comments.

    A hybrid future

    So how will the data centre sector, in general, evolve in the future? Poole believes that Cloud adoption will accelerate; “there is no question about that”, he says. “However, it will accelerate in a hybrid way. The biggest growth area for us is the enterprise space as enterprises adopt Cloud technology.”

    Research by Right Scale (2016) suggests that 71% of enterprises have a hybrid structure. Nevertheless, s significant percentage of computing capacity is still in a basement, Poole points out. These environments are now “coming out of the basement” and the challenge, going forward, will be for businesses to move into a “Cloud-first world”, says Poole.

    Innovation through interconnection

    Equinix helps businesses leverage the digital edge through its Interconnection Oriented Architecture (IOATM) strategy, a repeatable engagement model that helps companies do business at the digital edge. The company recently hosted its second ‘Innovation through Interconnection’ conference, in London to demonstrate how both enterprises and service providers can leverage IOA to directly and securely connect people, locations, clouds and data. IOA integrates the physical and virtual worlds where they meet. This year the conference programme focused on the digital edge.

    “Earlier this year Gartner identified that it is essential for businesses to bring connectivity closer to end users, at the ‘digital edge’, to increase performance. This means that interconnection is becoming key. Being closer to the edge is particularly important in view of the Internet of Things, which makes data analytics and real-time connectivity matter more than ever,” comments Poole.

    The term ‘digital edge’, he explains, has been coined to describe where the suppliers of services and the users of services come together to interconnect, to solve the ‘problem of physics’, ie how to reduce latency, as well as to solve the ‘problem of security’, by eliminating the internet as the access mechanism.

    “Equinix is pretty much where the digital edge lives. We are seeing a tremendous amount of activity around this,” Poole continues.

    Richard Warner, Microsoft networking partner lead, adds that companies are increasingly moving their applications into the Cloud. “Previously, one of the restrictions has been how to connect to the Cloud. Organisatisations are looking for answers and Equinix, with partners such as Microsoft, deliver these connectivity solutions,” he explains.

    Presentations at the Innovation through Interconnection conference, included a case study from Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), which serves 300 million consumers across 13 countries and distributes 2.5 billion cases of drinks annually. CCEP was formed from the merger of three Coca-Cola bottlers. One of which, Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), adopted a Cloud-focused, interconnection-first strategy with the purpose of driving efficiencies across the business. By leveraging an IOA strategy deployed on Platform Equinix, CCE re-architected for a digital edge and is now more connected, more secure and more responsive.

    CCE made the decision to use Amazon Web Services (AWS) but there was a hitch. “Amazon won’t allow customer hardware into its data centres; it’s too much of a risk. So we started looking to see how close we could get to Amazon,” explains Robin Ford, senior manager, Cloud services, Coca-Cola European Partners.

    The company needed an efficient connection to AWS. Security and privacy were important considerations, and cost was a factor. Conversations with Equinix began once it became evident the Equinix data centre footprint best matched that of AWS.

    Equinix installed a CCE cabinet in LD5 London International Business Exchange (IBX) data centre. The cabinet connects to the Equinix Cloud Exchange, providing direct access to AWS, along with other cloud service providers that can be utilised in the future.

    “It’s one thing to connect quicker,” says Ford. “But it’s also a cost saving. Rather than having to pay for lots of physical connections, we have a virtual circuit.

    “It’s quicker to order and set up a new virtual circuit, should we need it. We end up paying for what we use, rather than paying for a 10GB link that is rarely fully used.”

    “We also put in the Equinix Connect solution to get internet connectivity,” Ford continues. “To be honest, there’s no business value in looking after hardware and operating systems. So we got out of the data centre game and went to hosted and cloud solutions, but we still have to connect our networks and solutions together.”

    Currently, CCEP has single racks with physical cross connects in IBX data centres in Amsterdam and Paris. The goal is to repeat the full Equinix Data Hub set-up, already in place at LD5, and have both Amsterdam and Paris built out as a Cloud Exchange by the end of 2017.

    Equinix continues to invest in new facilities and has recently opened new data centres in Amsterdam and Frankfurt but Brexit is one issue that is not proving a concern for the business.

    “If anything, we have seen an acceleration in growth for the UK market since Brexit,” Poole reveals.

    The trends that have driven growth in the sector will continue to be present, he asserted, and Equinix is “putting its money where its mouth is” by continuing to invest in UK data centre capacity at its site in Slough, as well as expanding at Park Royal and other locations.

    Ultimately, Cisco predicts that global IP traffic is set to increase nearly threefold in the next five years. This growth in IP traffic will accelerate the need for greater connectivity for organisations hoping to create business value as they undergo digital transformation.

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