The smell in the Old Truman Brewery is not one of beer, but one faintly of rubber – and the red brick building’s plumbing in London’s Brick Lane area no longer carries pale ale or porter, but terabytes of data; streaming in via purple and gold, black and orange fibre optic cables from cloud providers, stock exchanges and content companies all around the world.
The brewery, first built around 1666 AD, is now part of a business park with an eclectic array of customers. Perhaps its largest, though, is also its most discreet: behind an unobtrusive door with attentive guards and five layers of security is one of London’s lowest profile bits of critical national infrastructure; home to floor after floor full of humming server racks.
The building, or a lengthy lease on it, is Interxion’s: a NYSE-listed, Amsterdam-headquartered data centre operator with 51 data centres operational in eleven countries; the Old Truman Brewery’s traditional facade hides three of its data centres, LON1, LON2 and LON3.
The youngest, LON3, opened for business in February, with its first customers now online.
When Computer Business Review visited, the second and third floors of LON3 were still being prepped for business, with cleaners wearing neat hair bags ready to expound on the ISO 14644 standard that they scrub to, but capacity was clearly still available; it’s a competitive market, although few co-location providers can boast a site quite so central.
LON3, like its elder siblings on the site, connects clients to 90+ carriers and ISPs, including the specialist networks of the London Internet Exchange (LINX) and the London Access Point (LONAP), for a City-centric client base of blue chips, including many plugged in to the London Stock Exchange; a brisk 20 minutes’ walk southwest.
Managing Director Andrew Fray, a softly spoken dad-of-three with a passion for East End history, told Computer Business Review that business was good, with solid bookings led by cloud and content platform demand: the company has planning permission to build a fourth data centre on site, but has yet to make a final investment decision.
(Interxion reported revenues of €561.8 million in 2018, with a utilisation rate, the ratio of revenue-generating space to equipped space, of 79 percent at the end of Q4.)
As well as overseeing the expansion of the site’s footprint, Fray is also busy building out the site’s offering beyond its traditional carrier neutral, co-location provision, to include services like “Key Guardian”: provision of secure Hardware Security Module (HSM) so that customers can manage their cryptographic keys on site, as well as resilient GPS for traders who need to accurately time-stamp transactions under MIFID II.
(The Markets in Financial Instruments Directive requires precision timestamps on trades, so that regulators can understand exactly in which order transactions took place; giving them the ability to identify and act on high speed financial fraud.)
Computer Business Review asked Interxion’s UK MD the extent to which custom was driven by first-time migrants away from their on-premises data centres to his co-location facilities, versus existing customers ramping up their presence: approximately 20:80 came the answer, with most being existing enterprise customers ramping up their presence, i.e. as they build out a hybrid cloud footprint. Other virtues: flexibility, resilience and reduced capex.
So, how does it work, for those mulling a move to a co-location facility for the first time?
“Customers choose the number of racks in units and amount of they need in kW. They request certain size of cabinet”, he explained.
“They then pay a monthly fee for the space and power they need. We charge a set-up fee to get them started, but additional monthly fees for fibre cross-connects, GPS or other value added services. Some customers want us to build additional secure cages for them. Customers normally sign up to a one-three year contract. They can often increase or decrease the space power or connectivity they want over time. Hence it’s flexible, agile and highly cost effective…”
He adds: “We’re at the heart of a new digital supply chain, supporting vast aggregators of data; sports streaming platforms, gaming platforms like Twitch; traders; helping underpin cloud providers’ performance.”
Customer demands can be specific: as Instinet, the agency broker owned by Japan’s Nomura moved to Interxion’s site because the data centre operator could help it comply with MIFID II rules that mandate fair access to its European dark pool trading forum, by ensuring that all of its customers’ trades travel along equal fibre optic cables of 250 metres.
“There’s a halo effect”, Fray says, of the site’s large financial services customer base. “People want to test algos in the space. They want to connect with the players we have here. And we can do that with a simple optical fiber cross-connect which will cost them £70 pounds, more or less; whereas to back-haul that to somebody else’s site will cost them a lot of time and money.”
“So you might have a BT, Colt, GTT wanting to connect to the banks, the prop shops or other capital markets players… Ultimately everyone has boutique requirements: we need to be highly flexible both in terms of our people but also in terms of what customers expect. So they are now looking at a much wider range of power per cabinet. They’re looking at different size cabinets. You have different configuration and different connectivity solutions…”
The Old Truman Brewery, or its data centres, also have direct connections to all of the major cloud providers’ network links that help customers connect on-premises infrastructure directly with the cloud: Microsoft’s ExpressRoute, Oracle’s FastConnect, AWS’s Direct Connect and many more, allowing, as Fray puts it, customers to “toggle resources in and out of the public cloud: it’s like the Tinder of connectivity; OK, maybe that’s not a good metaphor, but we are certainly helping connect people.”
It’s not all cables and content though: in the basement 14 diesel generators sit ready to kick in if either of the site’s two separate power supplies go and its Uninterruptible Power Supply’s apparatus’ go with them. There’s 143,000 litres of diesel stored on site and given the Brewery’s designation as critical national infrastructure, there’s permission for its operators to slip through cordons in any emergency to keep it running.
So how confident is he that he’ll fill LON3: “Demand is very good. Although people drew a deep breath about Brexit, they’re continuing to invest in London. The reality is that we are launching nearly two thousand square meters of technical space, which by modern standards is not a huge deployment; it’s basically around 3MW. We’re a local shop for local people: our customers are intensively managing their estate and it does make a huge difference where you are located. There’s a lot going on in the market: people changing how they finance international trade; looking at where the consensus of distributed ledgers is reached; a fundamental shift in how sports and media content is distributed globally. We’ll be busy.”