Rackspace opens Crawley datacentre for European cloud users

Rackspace talks up economic and environmental benefits of latest addition to its global datacentre portfolio

Rackspace has promised to donate the design of its newest datacentre to the Open Compute Project so that other operators can draw on its expertise to inform the design of their facilities.

The firm, which specialises in the provision of managed cloud services, has worked with colocation provider Digital Realty to create its latest datacentre campus in Crawley, West Sussex, which officially opened on 22 April.

The site spans 15 acres, took 15 months to build and will eventually feature four separate data suites, with the first two already fully operational and boasting a capacity of 6MW.

It is the tenth datacentre Rackspace has opened around the world, and is specifically designed to meet the growing demand for managed cloud services in the UK and Europe, said Mark Roenigk, the firm’s chief operating officer.

“This is the newest and most sustainable datacentre in the UK. It is our fifth in the greater London area, and we are heavily invested here and appreciate the opportunity to serve the community,” he said.

“We’ll be able to continue to grow and scale our operations here in Crawley up to 30MW, and we are excited about the potential to do that."

Piecemeal design

Rackspace is taking a staggered approach to building out the site to ensure it is well-positioned to take advantage of advances in hardware performance and efficiency as time goes on.

Read more about datacentre builds

Speaking at the datacentre opening, Gary Boyd, senior director of project engineering at Rackspace, said the company had targeted a power usage effectiveness (PUE) score of 1.25 for the site, but – in practice – had managed to drive this down to 1.15.

“It’s nothing like anything we’ve built before,” said Boyd, in terms of its energy efficiency, the power and cooling systems it features, but also the sheer amount of operation space there is available for more office-based functions.

“There aren’t many datacentres with operational space of this size because it’s usually an afterthought. We were generous as we will have up to 80 people here, and it will last us 20 years, so we wanted to make sure we were giving ourselves the space we need to work with.”

The PUE score has been achieved, he revealed, by the company’s decision to eschew mechanical cooling techniques at the site in favour of a roof-mounted indirect outside air cooling system.

This pulls in cold air from the outside of the facility, which is then filtered and passed through the data halls for use by the servers, as long as the temperature remains below 18°C.

If this temperature is exceeded, the site’s adiabatic evaporative cooling system kicks in, which runs on rainwater collected from the datacentre’s roof.

Cooling innovations

Rackspace claims the decision to draw on the air outside the facility to cool it should cut the costs of its energy overheads by around 80%, and makes it the first datacentre in the UK to use this type of technology on such a large scale.  

From a security point of view, because of the managed nature of Rackspace’s cloud offerings, customers will be prohibited from accessing the data halls, while access will be similarly restricted to staff members based on their job role. This will be controlled using a mix of badge readers and biometric fingerprint scanners.

“For example, our CEO can’t just turn up at the datacentre and get in. They’d need to be approved to get access, and that needs to be submitted 24 hours in advance,” he explained.

“Even the workers who are on-site don’t have access to all parts of the building. So if you’re someone who works in our DC ops area, you’ll be able to access the data hall.”

While the site has been designed with a high degree of resiliency and failover systems in place, it will also be manned by 80 staff working in shifts to tackle any technical emergencies, added Boyd.

Local opportunities

Speaking at the opening, Henry Smith, the Conservative MP for Crawley, also talked up the economic benefits the new facility will bring to the area.

“In terms of e-technology, you have expressed how this is a centre for the cloud not just for greater London, but the rest of the UK and Europe as well, and I’m immensely proud that is taking place here as well,” he said.

“Employment is very important for local representatives and the economy here is very buoyant, and the jobs it will sustain are very important too.”

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