Building a $220m data centre

As one of Australia's largest data centres nears completion, its project master planner shares his thoughts on how Australian organisations can cash in on efficient data centres.

Strategic Directions Group director Mike Andrea stands by as a 22 tonne diesel power generator is hoisted onto the roof of the Polaris 1 Data Centre.

Strategic Directions Group director Mike Andrea stands by as a 22 tonne diesel power generator is hoisted onto the roof of the Polaris 1 Data Centre.

Queensland’s $220 million Polaris 1 Data Centre, located in Springfield and soon to be one of the largest in Australia, had six huge 22 tonne diesel generators installed five floors high last week and is on track for construction completion by Christmas.

The 14,000m², three-story building will co-locate enterprise organisations with Queensland government departments and councils, and will connect Springfield to Brisbane via a dark fibre network.

Polaris 1 will boast state of the art security systems and environmentally conscious technologies including non-potable water for cooling that can potentially save 650,000 litres a day, trigeneration power feeds, and rotary Uninterruptible Power Supplies in place of lead-acid batteries.

IT consultant Strategic Directions Group is the overall master planner for Springfield ICT, and its director Mike Andrea spent three years researching the newest and most secure data centres around the world for Polaris 1. With this experience, Andrea has warned that governments, local councils and major corporations could waste millions if CEOs don’t plan green data centres correctly.

Andrea, who has designed the Treasury’s data centre in Canberra and recently returned from major project consultations in Asia and Europe, said his data centre philosophy is it must be financially viable to the parties involved, and it must be flexible and scalable so that as densities change, the building is able to cope with new demands.

“But the bottom line is don’t go overboard. Anything can be done technically, but financially it might not be the most business savvy thing to do (to over commit and overspend on capital just to achieve high density),” Andrea told Computerworld.

Andrea sees over-specifying capacity requirements as one of the most common mistakes made in data centre design.

“We’ve had requests through RFIs and tender processes across government and commercial sectors where organsations are asking for hundreds of racks to be housed at 10 kW per rack, when in reality some of those requirements have probably overstated what is needed. They do need the ability and flexibility to support high density racks…but that load on a building from a power, cooling and telecommunications perspective can be quite taxing, especially if it’s a retro-fit.

“Even on newer data centre facilities we quite often see organisations talking about going to 3000-6000 Watts per square metre in overall density across large floor space. When you add that up, that’s quite a lot of capacity required in a small area, and it actually begs the question of whether financially that’s the best thing to do, because it could be more cost effective to stick within the 1500 Watts per square metre area but just use more space. So space versus capacity becomes quite critical in financial terms,” he said.

(See Computerworld features “A green IT checklist: From first steps to stretch goals” and “Six Steps to a Green Data Center”)

Virtualisation and server consolidation is a key green initiative among data centre operations, and can be beneficial in reducing the overall footprint of the data centre. But Andrea warns that consolidation can actually create demand for high density racks which require far more elaborate electrical, mechanical and structural environments, in turn driving cooling, power and construction costs up.

“So before where you might have had 200 servers spread across thirty small data centres, you might consolidate that through virtualisation down to say twenty servers in three or four high density racks. But those high density racks are actually now causing the problems in data centres, and some selection processes or business case development don’t take the impact on the data centre into account in the consolidation and virtualization business case,” he said.

Andrea recommends bringing the data centre manager into the business case development from day one to assess the overall cost and impact of implementing these kinds of technologies.

Finding the right balance between environmentally friendly and financial viability is paramount, as Andrea warns it is currently slightly more expensive in terms of capital and operational costs to look at green power generation capabilities such as tri-generation and co-generation. Location is also vital in determining what power services are available, such as gas or energy from renewable sources.

“The location is quite critical. For free air cooling some of the southern states might have an advantage over the hotter states…but it really comes down to the use and selection of vendor products and how that is taken into account in the procurement process.

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