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July 28, 2015updated 25 Aug 2016 11:53am

CIO Q&A: Does your data centre have the E-Factor?

Steve Webb, Ark Data Centres CIO talks aging UK colo market, pricing war, and how energy is the X factor of the modern data centre.

By Joao Lima

Sitting down with CBR’s Joao Lima, Steve Webb, Ark Data Centres’ CIO told competitors that just because Ark does not put announcements out to the press, "it does not mean we are not being successful, we continue to build at pace".

The once small colo company became a known name in the industry last March, after scoping a £700 million Crown Hosting contract with the Cabinet Office to provide public bodies with a space to host their physical infrastructure.

CBR sat down with Webb to take Ark’s temperature on the project and the colo’s energy vision.

CBR: How has the data centre become all about energy?

SW: In modern day data centres, energy and efficiency is probably the biggest driver of cost. Putting aside rents and other over costs of running a data centre, energy and energy consumption of the IT equipment and the associated overhead cooling of the IT equipment probably represents 40% to 50% of the total overhead of that piece of infrastructure.

Data centres today are energy efficient by being economically efficient in the way the whole IT infrastructure is cooled, that is what we call the E-factor: energy and efficiency together.

The more efficiently, effectively and therefore economically operators can cool a data centre, the lower their total costs. It also benefits in carbon terms because for every kW of IT that is producing data, operators need something to cool it with and the lower that cooling factor – the PUE metric – the lower the energy consumption.

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CBR: How does Ark’s green agenda take into account the E-factor?

SW: Our green/sustainability agenda goes from the construction bases, through the energy consumption. We deploy direct air to cool our facilities. On top of that, we get our energy from noble sources.

Not only we buy green energy from the grid, we also have private arrangements where we take direct supply from a solar energy supplier, and the energy comes straight into the data centre. Sustainability is absolutely key to us, without compromising availability and security of the site.

CBR: How is energy creating a price war in the London data centre space?

SW: Among the large data centre operators in the Greater London area there is probably 80 MW of capacity currently available. Supply and demand says that if there is so much capacity, there has to be a price.

What we find is, if customers look at the equation – and that is why the E-factor is important – they may be able to get a cheaper location than an Ark location from a rent perspective, because of that demand and supply thesis. But when including the price of energy, an Ark solution may actually be more cost effective, because while they are paying a higher rent, their energy costs will be lower.

The total cost of ownership will end up being a lower cost of ownership over a longer period of time, and that is because energy consumption is going up and the price of energy is going up. Energy is the opposite to data centre availability; hubs have an abundance of capacity, but not an abundance of power and so demand and supply kind of go in opposite directions.

CBR: Why did some operators let their data centres age, and what is Ark’s anti-aging approach?

SW: One of the challenges that we have is that a lot of the infrastructure that has been around for a number of years was fit for purpose five years ago, because that is where technology and innovation was.

At Ark, we build in a "module fashion", we do not build big data centres. We build just in time to supply the sales demand that we have. By doing that, we are building in much smaller increments. As when we see advances in technology that drive greater efficiency, we just bring those efficiency gains into our next building. We always try to build today’s data centres, for tomorrow’s leads.

It is expensive to go back and retrofit, and operators put at risk the clients in that data centre, because at some point they will have to work on live systems. And no matter what happens that is always risky.

CBR: With so much M&A activity in the colo area, what is your take on this consolidation wave?

SW: Industry consolidation is inevitable. The industry has been relatively immature for a number of years. Now that is getting more maturity, we get a lot more capacity.

That growth from the last five years starts to build up, the space is getting some pretty large chunky blocks. Given the challenges that we all have in either creating a new market or going into a new geography, we will see more of it [M&As].

CBR: How is the Crown Hosting contract changing Ark’s business?

SW: We have a number of pieces of new businesses that are coming in. The traction that it has got is very positive.

It all comes back to how the central and local governments run their public spending budget. A lot of DCs that are in central and local governments are still in old environments. It is those opportunities that we are currently pursuing.

We always look to increase our UK footprint to give us a wider [business] spread nationwide. The focus is now around building a UK capability which gives us a good geographic spread in London, the southern markets and also moving up to middle England and the northern parts of the UK.

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