Data Centre in the Cloud Age

Data Centre in the Cloud Age

By Lewis Chan, Head of Technology, SUNeVision

According to Structure Research’s recent estimation, the hyperscale cloud infrastructure worldwide market has just crossed the US$30 billion mark and the projected CAGR for 2017–2022 is 48.8%. Asia Pacific is definitely one of the most important and fast-growth playing fields that the hyperscale cloud providers will eye on to seize the market share. Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced the opening of its Hong Kong region this year and Microsoft Azure is already hosting its East Asia region in this highly connected gateway to China. Hong Kong is poised to become a key location for these global cloud service providers. In order to stay competitive, colocation operators in Hong Kong should get ourselves ready when designing new data centres to meet the changing needs of these hyperscale cloud players.


High Power Density

Cloud computing has transformed today’s IT infrastructure. As servers are virtualized and provisioned in a more agile manner, the infrastructure supporting today’s data centres has also changed. The significant increase in power density in the past few years has brought about some major changes in the design of data centre in this cloud age. Cloud service providers are requiring 6kW to 10kW per rack on average, with individual racks consuming as high as 20kW of power per rack.

Designing for a high power density environment cannot be an afterthought. Retrofitting an old infrastructure with a 3kW per rack design to support this cloud-level power density is at best inefficient if not infeasible. The cooling infrastructure has to be sized to support enough airflow and cooling capacity. There needs to be containment and return plenum design to handle the cooling requirements, which in term dictates the architectural design of the data hall.


Design for Cost-effectiveness

With resilience at data centre level across availability zones or regions, global cloud providers are now satisfied with a N+1 design for UPS power. Simply put, if one data centre becomes unavailable, the workloads in that data centre will be shifted to another connected data centre, thereby reducing the need for a 2N design for UPS power that have been a common requirement in the past decade to ensure high availability of data centres. Compared with a 2N design, an N+1 design saves cost and space for data centre operators and helps achieve a more cost-effective solution.

Efficient energy design is also a major selection criterion as every decimal point in the PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) may translate into millions of dollars per year for a multi-megawatt deployment.


Accommodating Heavy Racks

As server racks of major cloud players are pre-installed with loads of optimized servers that are extremely heavy, the data centre needs to meet certain basic physical requirements, such as high ceiling, heavy floor loading, covered loading bays, and ramp-less delivery routes with high-capacity freight elevators.


Connectivity is Key

Low-latency connection among availability zones or regions is now key to the cloud architecture. Data centre connectivity has therefore emerged as one of the top selection criteria. Carrier neutrality, availability of dark fibers in diversified routes, secure private trunks, and the presence of submarine cables have all become key requirements when selecting colocation data centres.


No Compromise in Security and Physical Risks

Physical security is undoubtedly a key consideration for cloud service providers who have done an excellent job in convincing their customers or potential customers that public clouds are now very secure. They therefore cannot afford to reside in a facility that does not meet their stringent security requirements or one that poses significant physical risks. Those that are close to the waterfront or in the proximity of hazardous facilities would probably fail the initial screening.


Trust on Operating Experience

Maturity in operation and service excellence are also key attributes of data centre operators who serve these global cloud players. Proven track records in building and operating sizable data centres and the ability to meet stringent service levels are musts. An open Building Management System (BMS) that can be integrated with the cloud player’s monitoring systems has also become increasingly important.


Plan ahead for Future

Even if a data centre meets all of the above requirements, the facility still may not be the choice of cloud service providers if it cannot deliver the needed infrastructure in time or lacks the flexibility for future growth. With an average annual growth rate of over 40% per year for the top cloud players, time to market and flexibility for growth are not just nice to have, they are a must to react to market demands. Everything being equal, the one that can provide ample growth capacity and a short delivery lead-time will win the deal. Good capacity planning and modular design are therefore key winning strategies.


The opening of a new AWS region in Hong Kong and the phenomenon growth of Microsoft’s cloud business will definitely fuel cloud adoption in Hong Kong. Let's get prepared for more cloud-ready data centres to meet the demand in the coming years to help build Hong Kong as a technology hub in the region.


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