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Case study: Eir embarks on datacentre consolidation to support quad-play telco growth

Irish telco Eir shares details of its datacentre consolidation project and explains why investing in a robust UPS was a must

Earlier in 2015 Irish telecommunications giant Eircom revealed the results of its €16m rebrand, which saw it shorten its name to Eir and embark on a wide-scale refurbishment of its websites and retails stores.

Behind the scenes, and for the past four-and-a-half years, the firm has been working on an equally ambitious €6.7m revamp of its datacentre operations, as it moves to reduce the number of facilities it runs from five to two.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Eir contracts manager Owen Wynne says the decision to downsize its datacentre footprint has been prompted by the realisation the infrastructure used to run its business no longer requires the same amount of floor space as it used to.

This is as a direct result, he says, of replacing equipment that has reached end of life with better-performing kit and through the firm’s use of server virtualisation.

“Virtualisation has enabled us to do a lot of physical downsizing because you can do an awful lot more in a cabinet than was previously the case, so you can scale down your footprint,” says Wynne.

“That alone has been instrumental in being able to consolidate down from five datacentres to just two.”

The first of these two datacentre builds has already been completed at a 3,000 sq ft site in Blanchardstown, which is already home to the firm’s telephone exchange and television service.

“The site is already referred to as a core node within our network, and had all the necessary fibre connectivity and bandwidth to make putting a datacentre there a viable proposition,” says Wynne.

The company has been steadily moving the infrastructure from its other datacentres into the Blanchardstown facility since taking it over in December 2014, and – at the time of writing – was waiting for planning permission to be agreed on its second site.

Read more about datacentre consolidation projects

In the meantime, Wynne admits it’s difficult to quantify the exact benefits the company stands to gain from embarking on the project, but it is fair to assume selling on the sites it no longer needs will generate it some money.

“We’re still in the early stages of the migrating systems and we knew that once the datacentre was completed it could be some time before it is populated to its fullest extent, so it will be some time before we see the full benefits of embarking on this project,” he says.

“The property market in this country is on the up again, and this will allow us to make a bit of space and provide us with some new real estate opportunities as we move to sell the old sites on.”

Underpinning the quad-play proposition

As part of the company’s rebranding exercise, the company ushered in a new marketing slogan that invites customers to “live life on Eir” by making full use of its quad-play portfolio of broadband, fixed-line phone, mobile and television services.

To ensure the company is able to deliver on the promise of its tagline, building resiliency into its datacentre infrastructure has been a must, as the site will house its TV services, its customer care systems and a number of its other core business offerings.

“We are going to put a lot of our core services in that datacentre that allow us to do our business and serve our customers, so it’s very important we are able to keep all those services up and running at all times,” explains Wynne.

“If our billing systems were to suffer, for example, and we weren’t in a position to take in revenue, it’s no different to having a call box on the side of the road that isn’t taking any coins.

“That’s just one example, but if systems like that or ones that support key customer or call centre applications go down, you’re dead in the water for a period of time,” he adds.

One of the steps the company has taken to guard against this happening is to invest in a robust uninterruptible power system, Wynne explains.

This steps in to ensure the datacentre continues to receive a consistent flow of electricity whenever the site needs to switch between the mains supply and its backup generators during a power cut, for example.

When we get round to building the second site, there will be some things we do differently, but the UPS setup isn’t one of them
Owen Wynne, Eir

To cover off this part of the datacentre build, Eir enlisted the help of Irish uninterruptible power supply (UPS) distributor Pure Power Systems, which – in turn – opted to deploy eight Riello Master High Efficiency units at the site.

“The UPS specification we were working to was a 1200k VA N+1 system configured as a 2N arrangement, therefore there was a total of eight 400k VA standalone systems,” says Pure Power Systems managing director Ian Jackson.

“The three major driving factors in this were to ensure resiliency, efficiency and maintainability, while we had a very small footprint to work with in respect of the room layout of both the UPS and batteries,” he adds.   

Wynne admits there were cheaper UPS options available, but has used Riello’s technology in the past and decided to stick with what he knows.

“We replaced two UPSs in the same building about two years ago, and we saved quite a lot of money per annum on energy purely because the power factor of the Riello systems was considerably better that what was there before, which was 10 years old or thereabouts,” he says.

“It’s reduced our energy losses, but it’s also reduced the energy we lose through heat, so our cooling requirements have reduced quite a bit. Our energy bills are pretty huge, so anything that can save us some money is most welcome.”

Once the planning permission application is approved for the second datacentre, Wynne says his team will be turning their attention to building it out, and decommissioning the remaining sites that are will soon become surplus to requirements.

“When we get round to building the second site, there will be some things we do differently, but the UPS setup isn’t one of them. One of the things we had to consider first time around was that whatever solution we chose for the main plan items had to be repeatable in the sister site,” he says.

“You get a lot of cost savings by doing things that way, not only because you’re more likely to get a better price from the manufacturer, but from an operational perspective as your staff are already familiar with the site layout.

“A lot of other big tech players do it, as they like to be able to go from one site to the other and just know where everything is and how it works,” Wynne concludes.

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