E-shelter builds secure data centre in green belt

Hosting company e-shelter got planning permission to build a data centre in a green belt area by meeting stringent environmental standards and educating the local council on data centre construction.

Local authorities are extremely wary of giving out permission for data centre development. Yet e-shelter U.K. has found a way to develop an 800,000-square-foot facility right in the middle of green belt protected land.

Phil Lydford, the CEO at e-shelter, spent two years looking for the right site for a large data centre before he hit on the site in Saunderton, Buckinghamshire, just off the M25.

"The e-shelter model is large-scale. We design, build and operate large-scale," said Lydford. "We knew we had to be near the city where most of our customers are based, so we were looking at a maximum distance of 50 miles from London."

The site is just outside the M25, which is good for security, according to Lydford. "We are not subject to a closedown caused by a terrorist act. We wanted to find a site that was extremely secure."

As well as being in the green belt, the now disused factory site near High Wycombe is in an area of outstanding natural beauty: "The only reason we can develop is that there was a factory there," the CEO said. This created a small brownfield island in the middle of the green belt where development is not only possible but being encouraged by the planning authorities. Brownfield land is property that once featured development and that has become vacant or derelict.

Selecting a data centre site 
Ten-year-old e-shelter is based in Germany. It has five data centres totaling 1 million square feet and is developing four more: one in the U.K., one in Zurich, Switzerland, and two in Germany. Its customers are large corporations from various sectors, including financial services, IT services companies including IBM and HP, search engine giants and YouTube.

An important factor affecting site selection, according to Lydford, was the likelihood of getting planning consent and the willingness of local authorities to support a planning application. "The whole issue of data centres is quite fraught, and not many local authorities really understand what a data centre is. We have had to educate local authorities as to what they are. If the building is big, they expect lots of people and traffic, whereas the completed data centre sits quietly with very few people and not a lot of traffic," said Lydford.

He added, "I would describe Wycombe District Council as extremely helpful but slightly suspicious." E-shelter had to work closely with the local authority before it made the application: "We worked with consultants and met with the leader of the council. We had a community open day, made a big effort to show what the impact might be."

The completed development will be campus-style with five data centre buildings and an office building.

E-shelter met local authority and community concerns head on about the environmental impact of the development by agreeing to meet the stringent gold LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) accreditation, which evaluates environmental elements, from site selection for new builds to material selection and reuse, power usage and sustainability.

"One of the things Wycombe District Council wanted evidence of was that we are pursuing a sustainable approach to the development of this site. The best way we could show them we are doing that is to meet a tough external standard," Lydford said.

He acknowledges the shortcomings of LEED, a voluntary rating system, in relation to data centres, as it is focused on buildings designed for occupancy.

"In Saunderton there are probably about 30 people on-site at any one time, whereas the LEED standard calls for the availability of local facilities, such as post offices and shops. This is of limited value," he said, noting that the U.S. Green Building Council is working on an updated standard due out soon.

The alternative is BREEAM (the BRE Environmental Assessment Method), a British standard. E-shelter will comply with this, although Lydford doesn't believe it is as stringent.

He also had to account for the EU Code of Conduct for data centres, which came along quite late in the day for the Saunderton development: "We started this almost two years ago, and at that time the EU Code of Conduct was not even a twinkle in someone's eye."

Lydford has focused on maximising the use of electricity: "This is a very important matter. It is easy to get carried away with solar power, etc., but at the end of the day we have to use electricity, and the returns on maximising that can be a 25% saving on power bills (see "PUE savings").

"Anything that doesn't have a clear return on investment would be difficult to get approval for. We can separate green into three areas; the first is efficiency and the best use of power, the second is cooling methods and the third is sources of power.

"The cooling methods are perhaps the most difficult to show a clear return on investment. There are a number of different ways of doing this and different schools of thought as to the temperature that should prevail," he said.

The Saunderton data centres can incorporate any type of cooling, but customers may have to compromise. "Customers share data centre buildings; so unless they have the whole building, there would have to be some agreed compromise on cooling," he said.

Tracey Caldwell is a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk. 

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