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Digital Realty is building out a giant campus for Rackspace in the English town of Crawley, south of London. A three phase project has begun with the ground clearance for a 130,000 sq ft shell which will draw 10MW.

The facility will represent Rackspace’s first European Campus. Its current footprint in Slough, west of London will remain but it will consolidate out of some existing colos.

The site represents the first Rackspace Open Compute Project (OCP) IT stack at large scale in Europe with the firm planning to kit out the data center exclusively with servers manufactured to the OCP design specifications and manufactured by Taiwanese OEM Quanta.

“This is the first data center with Quanta supplied OCP based equipment. It will be a good test for both the cooling and of open compute hardware at scale. We think this will prove its efficiency,” said Mark Roenigk, Chief Operating Officer at Rackspace.

Phase One of the project is scheduled for completion in Q1 2015. It has a design PUE of 1.17 and will use roof mounted indirect evaporative air cooling units from Excool. The white space will have a concrete floor with all the power conveyed on an overhead bus system.

Mace is the main construction contractor with Cundall acting as main engineering partner.

“This will be the first Rackspace data center campus in Europe. The first building will be 10MW then two additional buildings will be added over time as capacity is required. From a sustainability perspective it will have a [design] PUE of 1.17. It will be the first European data center to be kitted out with open compute hardware which we believe is 30% more efficient than traditional OEM hardware. The combined effect of PUE and OCP will see us pushing the envelope on efficiency and sustainability,” Roenigk said.

“The initial build out is scheduled for handover at the end of Q1 2015. It will then take another 60 days to bring in the open compute cabinets and equipment, plug in power and fiber and then go live. We will initially utilize 6MW and then take up the next 4MW in response to demand over the following two quarters,” he said.

The terms of the deal
Under the deal between the two companies Digital Realty will own and operate the building with Rackspace as an exclusive tenant.

Financial aspects of a project such as this are closely tied to the design. Both firms have previously collaborated on similar projects in Texas and Sydney Australia.

Mike Foust CEO of Digital Realty, said: “We’ve worked together in Texas and Sydney and now in London. There is a lot of engineering and design that we can bid out and get indicative pricing which helps finalize the financial contract between the groups. It requires a lot of trust to get to that point because of the enormous amount of up front work.”

Roenigk adds: “Because of customer needs and the services we want to provide to the industry there certain things from a design perspective that are non-negotiable. Walking into a wholesale colocation provider just doesn’t work for us. This is the best of both worlds because it allows both of us to do what we do best. Putting a $200m data center on the balance sheet doesn’t work for us either.”

“We have collaborated from a design and technology perspective and there are always things we need to tweak. We love partnering with Mike’s team as they are always prepared to do things a little bit differently. They accept that we see things earlier at the customer level and understand their changing requirements,” he said.

Rogniek also suggests that cost of capital to Digital Realty is probably ‘a little lower’ than it might be to Rackspace.

The ME design

Digital Realty will have full responsibility for the mechanical and electrical systems, the physical shell and security. The IT will be in Rackspace managed.

Mike Foust said: “We see the POD architecture being the basis for everything that is ‘back office’. Prefabricated electronic systems will definitely be a feature of this data center. The UPS and switch boards that hold the electrical train will be modularised. Containerized systems we see as really forcing a form factor onto the IT equipment. We want to keep the data cetner floor flexible and not force a form factor onto them.”  

“Excool's indirect evaporative cooling is a really efficient solution. It has a small footprint and few moving parts. There will be no chillers on site and no cooling towers so it will be very very efficient,” he said.

What it will used for
Once completed Rackspace will deliver services from the facility into what Roenigk describes as a ‘very disrupted market.’

“The traditional managed hosting business as a whole has gone form 18% growth down to 12% growth as people burst into cloud. The developers that start their business with three guys an a dog are already on the cloud. They are spinning up servers on their cell phone and are pure cloud. Then the Mom and Pop and small and medium businesses are not IT savvy. They need IT help and that is a sweet spot for us because we can provide economic infrastructure and provide support and help them with advice and run their applications. Things are moving up the stack. Traditionally we went up to the OS layer and now we’re being asked to help at the application layer which puts us in the dev-ops business. We’re in the process of reskilling the workforce to provide that. But we are a specialist to our customers. We’re not an AWS, a Google or MS Azure. Coming up and at the enterprise business level we have more CIOs coming in the door than ever before. Typically we serve the marketers and the back office people where we can move faster than the IT team,” said Roenigk.

“In the last 18 months the types of requests we’re getting are ‘my CEO says I need to be in the cloud.’ They have no idea how to achieve it. We help them put back office on dedicated hosting. Then put customer facing load on a private cloud. And there they test. It is a fallacy that public cloud is the cheapest platform. It depends on the workload requirement. There exist hybrid solutions. For anything they want to burst they use the public cloud. We’re not trying to be all things to all people but that’s how we see the market.”

How Rackspace positions itself with Digital Realty to match the infrastructure costs of its cloud scale competitors:
Roenigk said: “The cost infrastructure has to be competitive with the big guys. I can’t buy infrastructure at a higher cost than an MS or Amazon. I know what the big guys pay and we have to watch those numbers or we can’t be competitive. In terms of where we see the market heading. Maybe 65% of what we deliver is customer driven. We’re good at product development. We see things like the dev ops model gaining traction in the market and things like open database products that are taking off. As long as we can stay ahead of those trends we’ll have good traction in the market.”

Foust acknowledges that Digital Realty also has a role to play in cost controls which can keep his tenant competitive.

“Right now power pricing [in the UK] is pretty stable and we think it will continue to be so over the next few years…Like with all of our customers it is being able to maintain plus five nines uptime, deliver a cost-effective environment and keeping those costs down. We will leverage our power purchasing, deliver low PUE and effectively implement Digital Realty’s technical operations and facilities management program like we do in the 1.2m sq ft we operate in metro London. We have the full complement of expertise across technical asset management and design. This type of customer relationship fits into our operations. It is a big part of our business today both for large customers with big requirements for smaller customers or for large customers with small footprint needs,” he says.