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The Stack Archive

Global to local: The data centre comes down from the cloud at vXchnge

Wed 21 Jan 2015

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“IBM has an advertising strategy out that I’ve noticed on TV recently,” says Ali Marashi. “where they actually speak to their cloud platform being located in data centres geographically dispersed around the world. They’re one of the first entities I’ve seen that have taken the concept of ‘the cloud’ – which really doesn’t talk about geography, it’s just ‘out there somewhere’ – and makes it a physical thing, reminding people that even the cloud has to live somewhere.”

Marashi is the Senior Vice President of Engineering and Chief Technology Officer at carrier neutral colocation company vXchnge. His most recent project is a new data centre at the vXchnge Santa Clara HQ, with an additional 70,000 square-feet construction in Philadelphia set to open for business in 2015.

vXchnge was founded in 2013 with the leadership management team from the Equinix-acquired Switch & Data. Whilst IBM vaunts the global aspect of cloud, vXchnge is positioning itself on the customer’s doorstep. ‘Localisation’ is central to the company’s strategy over the next three or four years, as it plans new installations based on the density of urban markets, side-stepping some of the United States’ current issues with stagnation in infrastructure development. It’s a market with vertical acceleration in user-demand.

you see a kind of episodic behaviour in companies very often in which it sometimes wants to own the data centre, and at other times to outsource it,

“Because of the growth in applications,” says Marashi. “this big data, this internet of things, the demand that all of us have as consumers for real-time, highly responsive applications, the loads are growing at a monumental rate. The challenge is to deliver to these sort of solution providers, these content providers, these cloud providers, these enterprises that want to build a hybrid cloud and put part of their internal infrastructure married up with public infrastructure. They want rich and scalable, highly-resilient data centre solutions, and they need to be close to where the on-ramps and off-ramps are for the internet and the private networks. So you tend to find them located at crossroads of dense connectivity, and in many places in north America these are in the dense downtown metro areas, where there are the crossroads of fibres and where the carriers have built their central offices,”

Marashi notes the difficulty in the prospect of tearing down an entire downtown city block in order to establish a 100,000 square foot installation scaled to the local populace.

“You’re usually working in multi-tenant, multi-storey locations – but as a technologist, if you’re asking what makes my life easier, well, just give me a piece of dirt in the middle of the suburbs! It’s a whole lot easier to build that than it is in a ten-storey high rise.”

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The Santa Clara data centre has achieved an impressive PuE of 1.25 in a challenging climate via innovative cold aisle cooling architecture and a formidable fan wall construction.

“Corridor cooling is one of the things that makes Santa Clara unique in the multi-tenant data centre arena.” Says Marashi. “Cooling is the heart of efficiency. The cooling corridor gives us the ability to take advantage, especially in the Santa Clara climate, of bringing in fresh air from the outside, filtering it and bringing it right into the data centre floor to leverage it for cooling, rather than having to depend on traditional mechanical systems. The backup system is the water-cooled chiller plant, and they’re expensive to run. They’re efficient but not as efficient as using nature’s air, and consume resources such as water, which we continue to show sensitivity to.”

A cool approach to re-utilising DC heat

Considering projects such as the Bahnhof initiative to re-use data centre heat emissions as domestic cooling, Marashi shows sceptical interest:

“We’ve had dialogues about this.” he says. “the downtown buildings that we target are mixed-use buildings; we don’t own them, so we take long term leases with extension options – fifteen, twenty, twenty-five year leases. You’re taking a footprint within a multi-purpose building, and there is office space there in addition to the data centre space that we’re leveraging.

“So firstly it means educating the landlord and then working out with the landlord how they can actually benefit from what we’re deploying, to make it a win-win partnership. That’s a slow process, as we’ve discovered in some of these markets that we’ve been working with for our next levels of expansion.

“There are a number of providers that actually understand the data centre stakes very well – we’ve been very surprised, even as long as we’ve been in this, that some of the landlords that we’ve been dealing with actually don’t truly understand the potential opportunity associated with data centre space – so they proceed very cautiously with how they might want to potentially put tenants of their customer base in partnership with an early stage company.”

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Though issues of data sovereignty are beginning to drive even some U.S. firms to countries with an actively protective attitude to data, such as Germany, vXchnge is leaving that particular race for another day, while there’s still the home market to consolidate:

“At least in our near-term road map our focus is on what we believe are under-served north American markets. That’s not to say that Europe and Asia may never be in our future, but we do think that there are locations such as Philadelphia, Cleveland, Nashville, St. Louis, Portland, that are fast-growing markets for us in north America, and that are not yet served by rich and scalable data centre solutions. The demand there will grow, and it will push application and solution providers into those edge markets in larger deployments than we’ve seen to date. So we think there’s still a very large opportunity in north America before we think about branching off across the water. It’s just an issue of focus and opportunity,”

The data centre industry is unable to respond in real-time to world trends in any case, as Marashi observes. “We can’t really speed to market. Data centres take time to build, so we are scrambling. It’s great to know that capital is not our issue! What we are striving for is to get our footprint into the marketplace.”

Own or rent?

Partnered with LabTech, vXchnge’s new installations are focusing on the micro data centre because of the intangibles that it resolves: “you see a kind of episodic behaviour in companies very often,” says Marashi. “in which it sometimes wants to own the data centre, and at other times to outsource it. Sometimes it’s based on how the company is managing its own budgets, and sometimes it’s an episodic shift in mind-sets over the need to control every element of their technology infrastructure.”

vXchnge addresses the need for control with the ‘micro data centre’, in which the client gains the same kind of governance and monitoring as if they were running their own bare metal. “If you have an online platform as a service provider, the challenge is to make sure it’s a click away. So they can say ‘Yep, I need another cabinet, that capacity is available – click and I’m done’ – no more burdensome than if they had to call their IT department and say ‘Give me this, please’. With the technologies we’re employing, the intent is to get scalability into place so it becomes ‘deploy and forget’, and you don’t have to worry about ‘shift and lift’.

“It’s my data centre so I’ve got both the confidence and the checkpoints that keep me, as a solution provider for them, honest. I want to know how much power I’m consuming; I want to know what the temperature is around me; I want to know the status of the environment around me and if I’m at risk; I want the ability to look at the cameras and peer into the environment as if it was mine at any time; I want to be able to track the access logs of anyone who enters my space as if it was my own system – and I want the ability to check on that in real time.

“While building power-space and cooling is one of the elements, and I think we’ll fit very well in that with how we’re deploying and trying to provide customers an ability to scale without saying ‘Well, you’re now in your technology refresh cycle and I’m afraid, since your densities have increased, we’re going to have to move you over to the other part of the data centre – or to a data centre down the street….

“So we think we fit well in the next few years because it’s not just about power space and cooling, but it’s also about building a software platform that allows us to marry up with a company’s IT environment, so that it can keep the necessary sense of control – but also feel it can entrust its IT assets into our data centre.”

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