The looming datacentre problem

Aging data centres could find they are no longer fit for purpose soon and that could pose a serious challenge to significant parts of the industry, finds Nick Booth

Data center fans will be delighted to know there’s a big Expo coming up in October, where exhibitors like Memset will discuss the G-Cloud framework while NetApp, HP and Microsoft will explore the latest data centre technologies.

In seminars, men with paragraph-long job titles will say the same stuff they said last year about convergence and private public hybrids and all kinds of AAS-related subjects.  All very worthy, but I don’t think I will be on the edge of my seat.

However, I might be if MigSolv’s Alex Rabbetts puts in an appearance at one of the seminars, because he’s actually got some controversial views on subjects. This is an incredible rarity in an industry where everyone in the UK is scared to tell you their name unless it’s been cleared by a committee of compliance offices at corporate HQ. (Which is usually in another time zone).

According to Migsolv the UK data center industry is headed for disaster because the majority of facilities were not built for the modern age and cannot be upgraded. So within five years, the mechanical and electrical systems will be knackered and, sadly, there’s nothing they can do about it, because they don’t have the capacity to upgrade while supporting all their clients.

Those data centers situated in London’s Docklands are particularly vulnerable, he says, because the local power supply is notoriously inconsistent and putting the facilities on a direct input from the main, while the power management systems were upgraded, would be foolhardy. It’s not just Docklands where the facilities are likely to need upgrading in the next five years, it’s the entire country, from Slough to Scotland.

The high level of occupation of data centers could make it harder to switch the clients over to spare capacity while the data center was being upgraded, he says.  If all that wasn’t bad enough, there is another big problem for the UK data center industry and its clients: exposure.

Many data centre operators have made promises they can’t keep. They claimed to be Tier 3, Tier 3 Plus or Tier 3 Star compliant, when they aren’t.

“They had never actually bothered to read the Tiering standards and certainly weren’t going to pay the Uptime Institute for them,” says Rabbetts. While it may have been true that, ‘all plant is concurrently maintainable’ and that ‘all critical systems are installed as N+1’, those are the easiest claims to make in trying to meet Tier 3 standards because they need no investment and nobody ever checks, so everyone is effectively self certified.

“The problem was that they didn’t read the standards and they set expectations that they now can’t meet,” says Rabbetts. Many operators might have an N+1 UPS or air conditioning downflow units, since these connect to a common bus bar system there may be a problem. In order to upgrade a UPS the power will have to be bypassed at some stage and the replacement of air conditioning will be similarly painful. Systems will have to be drained and engineers will have to weld or braze the connections for the new system, which will of course be entirely different from the old.

To cap it all, the legacy data centres have all tied their clients into long, inflexible contracts too.

MigSolv is trying to capitalise on this by offering a flexible hosting system (which can be ramped down as well as up) on a flexible contract (i.e one month minimum, rather than the three year sentence most service providers imprison their clients with). They’ve even made it a contractual obligation, under their terms of their Coloflex package, not to poach their rival’s customers, while they temporarily host them.

Sounds like a plan.

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