Kelowna firm spends $75M on green data centre

A collocation startup is using Kelowna, B.C. as the location for a $75 million data centre that promises to make extensive use of so-called “green IT” and other energy-efficient techniques.

The data centre will be built by IBM Canada and Rackforce, which is also based in B.C. Due to be set up before the end of this year, the facility will be operated by gigaCenter Services Corp., which is partly owned by RackForce and a private equity company. It will comprise 70,000 sq. ft. of raised-floor data center space and create jobs for up to 100 employees, the company said. Like Q9 Networks, Peer One and Fusepoint Managed Services, enterprise firms will be able to rent out space in the gigaCenter facility to house their server equipment and provide business continuity, on-demand computing and other services.

Rick Ellery, IBM territory services leader for general business in B.C., said the company is using its Rear Door Heat xChanger and other products to cut down on power costs, while recognizing that the gigaCenter’s customers needs could range from 80 watts per square foot to 200 watts. The green IT emphasis goes all the way from sizing the generators with UPS, the switch gear and even simple details such as the length of the electrical cables between the UPS systems and the computer cabinets.

“That may sound like a fairly mundane detail, but it’s amazing the amount of power loss you can experience over those high-voltage cables,” he said, adding such fine-tuning isn’t always possible with older data centres encumbered with legacy configurations. “We had the luxury with the gigaCenter to start with a clean slate.”

RackForce vice-president of sales and marketing Brian Fry said the data centre will be more than 60 per cent virtualized, which will mean gigaCenter can help customers take equipment running at 20 per cent capacity and bring it up to nearly 80 per cent.

“As we work through this process, we’ll keep coming up with ways to accommodate those requirements. We know that not every customer is going to use virtualization, but there’s a great deal of savings for the customer,” he said. “Even if you look down to the network design, you can turn bandwidth up on demand.”

Fry said RackForce and others involved in gigaCener got together more than a year and a half ago to determine where the data centre would be located. Kelowna met all the requirements perfectly, though it took some long-range thinking.

“There are lots of things people don’t take into consideration. Besides green power, you have to look at the seismic rift, wind threats. What’s the climate like – does it go to extreme colds? Do you have railways nearby that would take out the whole facility? Does it just cut off power?”

In Kelowna’s case, the grid is independent, which means it can’t be taken down by other grids the way some Ontario facilities were affected by the blackout of 2003. And unlike Alberta, Ellery added, where coal generated fossil fuel-based power is the norm, the gigaCenter will be fuelled by hydro. “By it’s nature it’s green power,” he said.

One of the biggest factors in Ellery’s mind was the ability to get out of the earthquake zone. “We live on a fault line. It’s almost inevitable that there will one day be a major earthquake,” he said. “It could be catastrophic, it could affect businesses in a major way. Kelowna has a 24/7 airport – there are direct flights from other locations. It has a four-lane highway. All these things are important.”

Even the backup power will be more energy-efficient, Fry said. Normally in an emergency data centres rely on diesel-powered generators, but the gigaCenter’s machine will quickly switch to 85 per cent natural gas.

“We’re putting a lot less of the ugly stuff into the air,” he said.

Once the Kelowna data centre is complete, gigaCenter will possibly be developing additional sites in the Okanogan Valley.

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