Case study: Virtus’s second London datacentre delivers innovative efficiency

Best technology innovation winner in the Computer Weekly European User Awards 2014, Virtus, shares its story

Technology specialist Virtus has worked with its partners to turn the construction of efficient datacentres into a fine art, with its latest facility being the most innovative project yet.

Virtus was crowned "best technology innovation winner" at Computer Weekly's European User Awards 2014.

London2, Virtus’s flagship datacentre in Hayes, is intelligent by design and focuses on providing a green facility that meets the changing ways in which businesses consume data in the digital age. 

Matthew Larbey, product strategy director at Virtus, says the challenge of providing efficient datacentres is one that must be overcome.

“What we’re doing is a direct result of the way IT is changing – people want to connect, they want a seamless experience, they want to be mobile and they want to consume analytics around the relationships they develop,” he says. 

“This changing model of work is driving the consumption of computing resources and data, and it is creating new challenges for the CIOs who need to build an infrastructure to support this new business reality,” he adds.

Larbey says technology chiefs can struggle to meet such demands and that data providers can provide crucial support. 

“CIOs are often still caught between having to provide highly governed, mission-critical applications and the need to support the more agile and disruptive processes that business users demand,” he says. “The people who build datacentre facilities must take these dual needs into account.”

It was this suggestion that sat at the heart of Virtus's approach as the firm constructed its London2 facility. 

Virtual testing precedes physical construction

Larbey and his colleagues worked with Romonet, which provided an independent assessment and determined the lifecycle running costs of the datacentre. The assessment was based on a comparison of different suppliers and overall capital and operational cost profiles across a 10-year period.

“Datacentre construction used to be based on spreadsheets of information,” says Larbey. “Romonet allows us to create a datacentre model that supports the changing demands of the customer base. We can use advanced mathematics, predictive modelling and data science to create a virtual design model before we actually build the facility.”

By building a number of models, Romonet predicted the total cost of ownership (TCO) for Virtus London2. The detailed assessment meant Larbey and his colleagues knew in advance how the new facility’s assets would be installed and connected. 

Such awareness substantially reduced the time spent on planning and logistics, as well as minimising construction risks. Overall project implementation time was reduced by eight weeks, which significantly cut construction costs.

Calculating datacentre energy efficiency

“The datacentre build typically starts with a high level list of requirements. In the case of London2, we knew from the start how much land was available and we then started to look at power, IT and customer demands,” says Larbey. 

“You can then start to consider the really cool stuff, such as the level of resilience against the cost of implementation. You can pull all the requirements together and then think about the power and cooling requirements that will be required to support that approach. Romonet allows you to pick and play with different combinations and to consider different cost models,” he adds.

No one can get away from the fact that datacentres consume electricity. As an operator, we must make sure any resource is consumed to the lowest possible level

Matthew Larbey, Virtus

Romonet’s modelling also helped validate the firm’s choice of cooling system. In an attempt to achieve low power usage effectiveness (PUE) and a reduced TCO, Virtus London2 facility became one of the first in the capital to deploy Excool’s Indirect Adiabatic and Evaporative Datacentre Cooling technology.

Excool uses outdoor air through a series of heat exchangers, which enable cooling to take place without allowing outdoor air to enter the data hall, keeping air pollution hazards outside the building. The product uses less power and is directly fixed to the datacentre, helping to produce big cuts in every consumption.

The mechanical and electrical infrastructure is smaller than usual, costs are lower and energy consumption is typically between 5% and 10% of conventional systems. The technology also allows Virtus to reduce generator power use by 60% and transformer power by 70%, as well as to cut the amount of diesel stored on-site.

Larbey estimates the PUE of datacentres built five years ago was about 2.0. While the firm’s London1 facility went live in 2010 with a PUE of about 1.6, London2 has been designed with a PUE of less than 1.2. The Excool deployments are modular, which means Virtus can roll out additional cooling units to meet changing requirements.

“The modular approach we’ve taken means customers only add to the power requirements as their demands increase,” says Larbey. “No one can get away from the fact that datacentres consume electricity. As an operator, we must make sure any resource is consumed to the lowest possible level. Datacentre economics, energy process and green legislation is driving the requirement for providers to design the most efficient facilities.”

Modular datacentre design offers future flexibility

The innovative construction approach taken by Virtus has also helped reduce the time it takes to construct a datacentre. Five years ago, says Larbey, it would take up to 18 months to construct a new facility. London2, however, was ready in less than a year. 

“You can get to target levels much quicker, and that saves money for us and our customers,” he says.

Virtus’s ultimate aim is to offer a flexible, efficient service at a lower price than its competitors. Larbey believes the money and time that he and his colleagues have spent in planning and analysing the strategy for London2 will provide a strong platform for further growth. 

He says the Virtus scalable approach demonstrates that the firm is committed to supporting its customers, no matter how their business requirements might change.

“Now the design is in place, it makes it much easier for us to start modelling virtual datacentres in reality. The modular design means we now have the ability to take advantage of that approach as we continue to grow and move forwards as a business. It’s a design for change and flexibility,” says Larbey.

“We’re a relatively new entrant to the market and we have to think about doing things differently to create a competitive advantage. The award proves that we’ve made the right choices and the disruptive elements that we’re pursuing are correct.”

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