London's data centres bursting at the seams

After years of emptiness, London's data centres are finally filling up - but can they handle the heat of blades?

Data centres, which have been yawning empty caverns since the dot-com crash of 2000, are apparently now bursting at the seams -- despite the space and power saved by using blade servers.

A survey released on Wednesday said that rack space in London is now at a premium, and Web-hosting firm Globix has just launched a high density hosting service to meet growing demand.

"Things have changed in the last six months," said Brendan Slater, professional services director at Globix. "Organisations are reaching capacity." Globix' site on London's City Road, where the high density service is being offered, is currently at 60 percent capacity. "Best practice is not to go more than 80 [percent] full," said Slater, "and we expect to reach that this year."

Hosting firm Redbus Interhouse estimates that data centres are growing at around 30 percent per year, and the survey of companies taking part in the DataCentres Europe event in London next month found that most are already close to capacity.

If London fills up, the market could go more European, as new facilities in London will be tricky to open due to space and power requirements. "With the London data centre market close to being sold out again for the first time since 2000, it will be interesting to see whether this will kick-start the markets across Europe at long last," said Tim Anker, founder of The Colocation Exchange. He predicts Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris will get the most benefit.

Blades, created to allow more muscle to be packed into existing racks, will not meet demand on their own, because of their power requirements. "Typical datacentres provide around 2kW of power and cooling capabilities per rack. However, a rack full of new blade servers requires up to 15kW of power. That equates to more British Thermal Units per square foot than a typical household oven demands and requires a cooling capacity sufficient to air condition two homes," said Philip Cheek, managing director of Globix.

In some data centres, the only answer is to space the blades throughout the building, which is easy to do when there are few blades installed. Today, blades make up around 20 percent of the servers at hosting firms such as Globix, and so power and cooling are becoming more critical. "We had quite significant headroom on our critical equipment," said Slater. "We have three generators and three chillers."

New customers of data centres are changing, says Slater, with more users having their back-end systems and data processing hosted, as well as their Web sites. For example, Inpharmatica is performing scientific calculations on the new service. "We do protein sequencing for drug discovery," said Inpharmatica’s IT director Steve Tringham. "We have fourteen IBM BladeCenters, each with fourteen dual-CPU blades, running at 3.4GHz."


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