STORY Power Generation

The heart of data

Posted on September 10, 2020 by Tara Tyrell, Images by Tara Tyrell, NextDC, Rolls-Royce

How emergency gensets safeguard Australia's data centers.
There’s a building that lies in the heart of Brisbane, Australia. When you see it from the outside, it stands out amongst the usual grey and brown high rise buildings that lie close to the city center. But it’s not until you step inside that you truly understand how bright, and how important, this building is. In fact, this building is quite literally the backbone behind many local, national and global businesses. Welcome to NEXTDC, Australia’s most proficient data center operator.

The data center market in Australia is booming and is now one of the four major sub-markets for data centers in the Asia-Pacific region, along with Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. Data centers are becoming larger and more efficient, and cloud providers are key players in the market, requiring space locally to assist with their own data center operations internationally. The growth in the Australian market is expected to continue over the next five years.

Remarkable and secured
NEXTDC’s B2 facility is the second NEXTDC data center to be built in Brisbane, the most modern in the city; and, let’s be honest; it stands out from the crowd. It’s also a bit like Fort Knox. Security cameras are on every corner, you must be identified by Security prior to entering the front door, and once you arrive at reception, they take your ID and replace it with a Visitor’s Pass. There’s even a bullet resistant chamber that takes you from the waiting area into the data hall itself, where you are weighed and filmed. It might seem crazy at first sight, but there’s no doubt all of this security is essential. For a number of major corporations, NEXTDC is their lifeline, and the engineering and design behind B2 can mean the difference between their IT platform’s success and failure. Chief Operating Officer Simon Cooper explains the “behind the scenes” of this incredible data center – the first of its kind in Australia. And why it’s so important.

“A data center is where your critical company IT infrastructure, and more importantly, your company data is hosted. This can be anything from your email to finance systems to your web presence. 15 to 20 years ago that was all on some hardware that you bought yourself and stored in a cupboard in your office building. But those cupboards weren’t designed for security, the heat, or the power, and the hardware would expand, get out of control and become highly susceptible to breaches,” he says. “The need for somewhere companies can store their data securely is growing exponentially, particularly with the rapid adoption of clouds. Large scale companies, like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, build infrastructure for you and you just rent it from them, rather than buying and operating your own IT. But the hardware that is in the cloud still needs to physically live somewhere. And that’s what a data center does.” While some large-scale companies, such as banks, still build their own data centers, a large number of organisations use a third-party data center that specialises in delivering unparalleled levels of reliability and security – NEXTDC.

As the sites get larger and the numbers get bigger, we have to be very focused on delivering quality. By working with companies like Penske and Rolls-Royce, we can do that

Simon Cooper, COO NEXTDC

Colour-coded and revolutionary
NEXTDC has two buildings in Brisbane, as well as others in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Perth. And while some of the other data centers are much larger than B2 (B2 has a 6MW capacity, whereas their second site in Melbourne has 40MW), there are a few things that set B2 aside as revolutionary, which simply enhances the importance of this colorful building.

The most noticeable aspect of B2 is the color scheme - bright red, yellow, blue and orange; unique to this center. According to Simon, the reasoning behind it is actually very simple. “Everything has a purpose. Blue is the cold air side of the data hall, red is where the hot air goes. The yellow tray is for fiber, the blue and orange ducts carry diverse power supplies from elsewhere in the building. “It was important to design the building so that it operates independently in case of instances of power issues in the neighbourhood, for example, but you also design the buildings to flush out the inevitable human errors – and color coding helps to achieve that,” he says.

“It was important to design the building so that it operates independently in case of instances of power issues in the neighbourhood, for example, but you also design the buildings to flush out the inevitable human errors – and colour coding helps to achieve that,” says COO Simon Cooper.

What sets NEXTDC B2 Brisbane aside from any others?
“B2 was the first of our second generation data centers,” he says. “So that means we use technology that is completely up-to-date. As our engineering team progresses, our design makes it more efficient and more reliable.” And as a result of this cutting-edge technology, B2 became Australia's first data center to achieve Tier IV certification for design and constructed facility from the Uptime Institute, as well as Gold Operational Sustainability. The building has 100% uptime, and can withstand failures of all kinds to maintain IT operations without fault. If a particular section of the building is on fire or a cooling system leaks, the rest of the center will keep working as though nothing has happened. And clients will never know the difference.

NEXTDC is so important to their customers, they can’t afford to let the power slide – even for a few seconds. If the NEXTDC power system shuts down, so does the flow of data for prominent businesses. Any downtime would be an impact that businesses can’t afford. This is where Penske and the Rolls-Royce brand mtu comes in, by providing diesel generators that assist in that process of 100% uptime. Around five years ago, Penske purchased the exclusive distribution agreement for mtu products and solutions for the Australian market and NEXTDC is the company’s largest client to date. Steve Turton, Business Manager – Energy Solutions at Penske, said he’d been in talks with NEXTDC for some time before they came to market with a framework agreement for vendors to supply emergency gensets to the company’s facilities across Australia. Today, Penske has provided a total of 40 units to NEXTDC sites across Australia, with another nine expected in 2020. “Penske were already active in the data center market, but this contract was the long-term framework contract we’d been awarded,” Steve says. The two companies worked closely together to ensure a product was established that would fit NEXTDC’s requirements. “The Penske team had been engaging NEXTDC’s engineers for the years leading up to the framework agreement, providing technical commentary. We also took NEXTDC’s engineers to Rolls-Royce’s mtu factory in Friedrichshafen, Germany, to give them an appreciation of the quality and standards that are applied to building the product. Once we completed the technical discussion, we set to work to meet the customer's commercial expectations.”

Special level of commitment: While NEXTDC’s COO Simon Cooper (left) was invited to mtu Headquarters in Friedrichshafen, Germany to appreciate quality and standards of Rolls-Royce products, Andreas Goertz, head of power generation business at Rolls-Royce (right) was invited to Brisbane to visit the revolutionary data center.

8 seconds to take full load  
The biggest challenges were NEXTDC’s stringent and specific technical requirements. At NEXTDC, the switch room is where the power and generators connects to the building. In here is a Rotary Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), which provides a 15 second ride-through for the generators to start up, synchronise and take full load, should the power supply to the building be compromised. “We needed to be synchronized and take full load in under 12 seconds contractually. We actually achieved eight seconds on the test bed in the UPS manufacturer’s facility in Germany,” he explains.

B2 currently has three mtu gensets on site, with the space for seven – allowing the expansion of power as the data center grows. Each generator at B2 can support 1.637MW, which is generally enough to support the center as it stands, and having three on board means there is always a back-up. Simon says this is imperative to successful operations. “We work on the premise that one of them will fail from a reliability perspective,” he says. “Having three on-site always ensures we have enough power ready to go. And as the customers fill the racks, and draw the power they need, we’ll deploy more as we need them.”

We also took NEXTDC’s engineers to Rolls-Royce’s mtu factory in Friedrichshafen, Germany, to give them an appreciation of the quality and standards that are applied to building the product.

Steve Turton, Business Manager- Energy Solutions at Penske

So why did NEXTDC choose to work with Penske?
“The Penske team was super reactive to all of our requirements; figuring out how to minimize noise, minimize pollution, different modes we could use. They understood, commercially and project-wise, how we need to behave and they offered us a level of commitment that no one else seemed to offer. “We wanted to be able to access generators whenever we need them, and we wanted someone who is committed to data centers. By using a big manufacturer like Rolls-Royce with its’ mtu products, we knew we were getting a level of serious commitment. They understood our business model, and they’re willing to work with us today, and in future.” Penske and Rolls-Royce have already been announced as preferred supplier to NextDC for their Generation 3 sites. Talking about the future, what does the future hold for data centers? Steve says times are changing and Penske and Rolls-Royce must change with them.

Sustainability gains in importance
“We are seeing disruption in all industries. There is certainly a drive towards cleaner, greener energy solutions, and I think we will see alternative fuel sources become more prevalent in the coming years. The Penske organisation will need to adapt to the changing market to stay at the top of the pack in Australia – we're very much aware of this and are keeping our finger on the pulse, providing our customers with innovative solutions in all industries we operate in.”

The biggest challenges for NEXTDC are keeping up to date with the growth, both of the business and their customers, and the energy market. “As the sites get larger and the numbers get bigger, we have to be very focused on delivering quality. By working with companies like Penske and mtu, we can do that. And with the energy markets changing all the time, we’re really excited about what the future holds,” Simon says.

In 2012, NEXTDC put 400KW of solar on top of the Melbourne data center, working out how to integrate it to make sure it was safe to use. “We focus on energy efficiency in our centers by minimising the power used in all aspects of engineering and IT. De-carbonising the power we use is extremely important and we’re working out different ways to buy power. These are really important things to us.”

And where does Simon see NEXTDC and Penske’s relationship heading?
“When it comes to the gensets, I don’t see a supply chain that can bring me bottled power on an emergency basis, other than diesel, at the moment. But that will change in future. And by working with a company as experienced as Penske, I’m confident we can work through any transition together.”

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