Scotland’s first purpose- built data centre sets new standards for safety and efficiency

Chapelhall, near Airdrie, is not the first place you might think to retreat to in the event of the zombie apocalypse. But there is a building there, which, if you happened to know the right people, might just offer the chance of survival.

It features motion-sensing CCTV, automatic number plate recognition (granted, your average zombie usually turns up on foot), twin anti-scale fences and a vehicle ‘airlock’ with anti-ram barrier (in the event of said zombies requisitioning an abandoned lorry). Inside, there are many more layers of security, overseen by police and military trained personnel, robust links with the outside world and enough independent power to last until even the most determined living dead lose interest.

Back in the real world, the building is actually Fortis; Scotland’s first purpose-built data centre and the largest, energy efficient facility in the country, offering high quality co-location hosting and innovative cloud services. Public sector organisations, financial services companies, the NHS and life science firms will be able to store data and run applications in a secure, cost-efficient and carbon- neutral environment. The facility has been designed and will be operated by DataVita, a Scottish company formed for the purpose last year.

Particularly for local and central government in Scotland, the centre provides the first real opportunity to bring efficiency into its data hosting strategy, by offering a facility that is big, efficient and secure enough to allow consolidation of the myriad public sector data centres in use. But DataVita has also designed the data centre to meet the highest standards of compliance in the financial and health sectors, allowing it to win national and international business for Scotland. The centre will also boost Scotland’s green energy credentials, running on renewable power and using a cooling system that is among the most energy efficient in the world.

One measure of a data centre is its ‘Power Usage Effectiveness’, or PUE. It is the multiplier of energy used over and above that to power the computer equipment (mostly that is cooling, but also lighting and any other power consumption). According to the Uptime Institute, the independent IT infrastructure organisation, the average data centre has a PUE of about 1.7.

“The PUE at Fortis is 1.18,” said commercial director Gareth Lush, “meaning that the average public sector organisation could save around £200,000 annually on energy costs alone by moving away from trying to run inefficient in-house computer rooms to hosting their IT equipment with DataVita – and that’s before you look at other potential savings from space and staff time being freed up. “It is also unprecedented in terms of quality and security – it will be the first data centre in Scotland to achieve Tier III certification from the Uptime Institute for design, construction and sustainable operations.”

DataVita goes live at the end of June and will employ up to 50 people. It’s a new business backed by a Scottish investor that was anticipating the future in diversifying its business, and two data centre experts – Lush and his business partner, operations director Danny Quinn; the brains behind the centre’s advanced features. They convinced the investor that it had the opportunity to build one of the most advanced, secure and efficient data centres in Europe and “bring to market a truly unqiue proposition,” said Lush.

Currently, Scotland’s co-location data centre space (that is, available to other companies and organisations, as opposed to a firm’s private dedicated facility) is close to its limit; there are only seven in Scotland (whereas there are more than 50 just within the M25). Existing data centres in Scotland
are also ‘retro-fitted’; adaptions of buildings previously used for another purpose. Fortis has been purpose built from the ground up (in fact, below ground also with secure, dedicated internet connections and back-up fuel storage facilities). Its system of generators promise continual operation in the event of loss of external power and service to customers will not be interrupted by maintenance.

InsIde, the centre is accessible only through a layered system of security beginning with an authorised appointment system for background-checked personnel only and continuing onsite with three factor authentication and radio-frequency identification cards that restrict and monitor, along with internal CCTV, a person’s progress through the centre. Proximity sensors alert security if someone moves too close to where they should not be and visitors are even weighed on before and after, ensuring they leave only with what they entered.

For customers, visits might be rare; DataVita is championing the ‘cloud- enabled’ data centre; integrating traditional data centre services with the cloud, via a secure portal allowing customers to visualise in 3D their equipment and data, manage power, run applications, drag and drop servers, and, if need be, create work requests to be fulfilled by onsite technicians.

The racks that contain customers’ servers are housed in secure pods and cooled using an ‘indirect, adiabatic free air’ cooling system that utilises a combination of outside free air and an adiabatic misting system on the outer airstream to cool the air in the data-centre without the two ever mixing. Scotland’s climate is a huge selling point as a location for environmentally friendly data centres (in drought afflicted California its more than 800 data centres use 158 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water a year to cool their equipment).

The whole project represents an investment of £200m: “It’s an investment in the digital future of Scotland,” said Lush, “cutting-edge, a potential boon to the public sector, a real opportunity for businesses and supporting breakthroughs in health and the life sciences sectors.”