Alcan engineers six-week data centre project

Brisbane-based aluminium producer Alcan has completed a new data centre in only six weeks after concluding it was cheaper to build in-house than outsource its infrastructure.

David Frazer, IT operations manager for Alcan's wholly owned engineering subsidiary, Alcan Engineering, said its old data centre was like that of a small business and with the relocation to new premises, an opportunity opened to build a new one.

After a "quick and nasty" review to compare prices, Alcan concluded it was cheaper than outsourcing over 10 years.

Alcan's design challenges centred on scalability of power and floor space, and cabling "spaghetti" problems.

"The main focus for the new data centre was to find a location and have the ability to manage the physical infrastructure, including environmental monitoring, all in one data centre centrally," Frazer said, adding the new infrastructure "designed out" cabling problems.

While Alcan itself is more than 100 years old, Alcan Engineering was established in Australia in 1997 to provide engineering and IT solutions for the parent company. Alcan Engineering provides services for some 3500 Alcan employees. Its infrastructure consists of 63 IBM xSeries servers in a Citrix environment, VMware for virtualization, Lotus Domino for messaging, and AutoCAD for design and modelling.

For the data centre equipment and implementation, Alcan partnered with APC to install a single 40KW UPS to support eight racks. There is N+1 redundancy for UPS and air cooling and APC's Infrastruxure is managing the system.

"We have an integrated NCPI [network-critical physical infrastructure] system so we can monitor and control everything centrally," Frazer said.

Frazer said the project highlight was minimal scheduled downtime while working on a tight budget.

"Now we have a best-of-breed server room [and] staff are no longer spending 10 to15 percent of their time in the server room fixing infrastructure problems," he said. "It's a pity we waited for a relocation to go through with this and understand the importance of the data centre."

Alcan's future plans involve standardizing its physical infrastructure across all its sites and integration of its remote sites into the management system.

APC Australia's data centre advisor, David Blumanis said while the data centre hasn't really changed much over the years, a new dynamic has arrived and innovation is starting to occur.

"There are multiple ways of building a data centre," he said. "Make sure all layers are delivering the service and [decide] what you are going to build to match the technology."

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