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March 23, 2016updated 21 Oct 2016 5:03pm

La Sagrada Familia: Inside God’s data centre and the challenges of the CIO who runs it

Analysis: CBR speaks with Fernando Villa, CIO and asks: How do you run the IT for a global top ten tourist destination which attracts 3.5 million visitors per year and which is also a 100 year old building site? Answer: Leave no technology unexplored

By Sam

The Basilica of La Sagrada Familia (the Holy Family) is a UNESCO world heritage site church and is the most iconic location (in a city of iconic locations) in Barcelona.

The church was conceived by the artist Gaudi. Construction started in 1895 and the unfinished project has a latest completion date of 2026.

It is what is known as a building site. It just happens to be one that attracts 3.5 million visitors per year.

This makes running its IT a pretty unique challenge for CIO Fernando Villa.

Mr Villa (pictured) who must address the requirements of a one of the world’s top ten tourist attractions and an ongoing major construction project.

Fernando Villa

Image: Fernando Villa, CIO La Sagrada Familia

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Mr Villa’s remit is to digitise the business. In 2013 it was decided that IT was a strategic asset to the Basilica and could create value in areas such as developing mobile systems for ticketing and to improve visitor experience by cutting queueing times, as well as managing the construction project.

"In 2016 we are in the customer relationship environment. We are in the experience economy so it necessary to improve customer experience inside and outside the temple. That means being able to know how many people are inside in real time. And I must know how many people are in the street at any time. It was important to improve platform ticketing to mobile and tablet to cut queues in the street. Seventy five per cent of tickets to enter the church are sold online," he says.

Part of the experience is providing dense wi-fi throughout the building.

Mr Villa is leaving no technology on the table when it comes to managing the construction project, maintaining the building itself and providing a 21st century customer experience through better interaction.

These in include Big Data, IOT smart sensors, drones, augmented reality, the list goes on.

On the construction side a BIM (Building Information modelling) system is used.

Data centre and Sagrada Familia

Image: Data Centre and La Sagrada Familia Basilica

Architects – acutal architects

There are 16 architects that need to work in collaboration and are working in SharePoint digitising production process including procurement and logistics 30 different processes,

The next phase is the deployment of business intelligence to get all the team engaged.

The architects are piloting the use of Virtual Realty to see design and for modelling, says Villa.

For maintenance of the building he is exploring the use of augmented reality and drones.

"Augmented reality is something we think we can incorporate by using drones to scan the towers. We have an augmented reality pilot for maintenance of the temple and all the main components of the church to be able to see construction project in real time. We are exploring the possibilities but we don’t know yet if we can use drones to maintain the towers. The use of sensor information for maintenance on the building is also being explored in a project with the University of Barcelona," Mr Villa says.

Modular data centre in a building site

Image: Modular Data Centre in a building site

Customer Experience

And for customer experience the mobile platform is vital. And to understand all the data generated he is using big data analytics.

Mr Villa says: "Unified comms and wifi is vital for us and how we interact with customers. Big data is a big question for us. We are exploring its use in areas such as a predictive analytics and simulation of construction, numbers and tourists and how each will impact the other."

Unusually the data centre infrastructure which runs these systems is located on-site in a Schneider Electric supplied modular data centre.

Traditional brick and mortar data centres always start as a building site and become clean controlled environments. At La Sagrada Familia the challenge was to deploy a data centre into a building site – (see video)

The solution was a purpose built modular data centre (pic 2) which was placed in a corner of the site.

Fully secure, the module houses 90 virtual servers in a fully redundant configuration.

To ensure dust is kept down, the design was similar to that of a traditional data centre. It has a vestibule, a small service area which includes the electrical switch room and which then opens to the IT area

Modular features included in the 60kW unit include expandable by modules with more DX cooling and power. It is future proofed with the ability for more capacity to be added.

Cooling infrastructure is installed to Tier 3 levels. Power for electrical configuration it is tier 3 internally with a tier four configuration outside which includes generator redundancy and two electrical switch substation connectors.

It measures 8m x 4m and the plan is for its final location will be two storeys under the ground on the site.

The data centre deployment

Solution Details
-Two 25′ prefabricated SmartShelter IT modules, joined together to comprise one individual data center room
-10 NetShelter IT racks and rack PDUs at 4kW/rack upgradable to 8kW
-Overhead DX fan coil cooling with external condenser units
-Symmetra PX UPS
-Overhead cable management
-Fire-rated, insulated wall construction
-Fire detection and suppression system
-Cold and Hot Aisles isolated through built-in containment system
-On-site electrical and mechanical connections were completed and operational in under 2 weeks.

Sagrada Familia Data Centre Power and Cooling
Image: La Sagrada Familia Data Centre Power and Cooling

Sagrada Familia had unique challenges and time constraints for building a new data center that required a different approach to the design and construction principles traditionally employed in the IT industry. In 16 weeks, Schneider Electric designed, manufactured and delivered a turn-key data center infrastructure solution, complete with IT, racks, UPS, power distribution, precision cooling, environmental management and fire suppression system.

IT service had been running in a server room with inadequate space for expansion. To accommodate the need for increased digitization of their business processes and more security this had to change.

Workloads provided from the data centre include ticketing admissions, retail operations, video surveillance, and ongoing engineering design and construction for the next phases of the building project.

Moving the data center offsite was not an option due to concerns with latency and security; but building a data center within an active construction site introduced the additional risk of downtime which would impact business processes.

In addition to the expanded data center requirements, there was the need to relocate the data center by 2026 to accomodate different phases of construction. A "movable" data center would reduce construction costs by eliminating the need to build two different sites.

Schneider Electric designed and manufactured a turn-key, prefabricated data center solution that was built and tested in the factory and delivered to meet Sagrada’s timeline. The data center solution was transported as two separate prefabricated modules with racks, containment, power, cooling, security and management systems pre-installed and then ganged together on-site to create a functional and spacious room. The units were delivered and installed outside of peak times to minimize visitor and congregation disruption.

Sagrada Familia Timeline and Data
1895, construction foundation cited
2005 declared a UNESCO world heritage site
2010 consecrated
2026 projected completion
3.5m visitors per year,
Top ten site in the world by number of visitors


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